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SPLC and ACLU Win Preliminary Injunction to Restore Access to Parole to Asylum-Seekers Detained Indefinitely Across Deep South

In a victory for detained asylum seekers, Federal court says ICE field office can no longer categorically deny parole

WASHINGTON, D.C. –– The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) illegal practice of denying parole to detained asylum-seekers who lawfully present themselves at official ports of entry. 

In a blow to the Trump administration’s sustained effort to criminalize asylum, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction in the case first filed on May 30, 2019, by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and ACLU of Louisiana. Boasberg also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification and denied DHS’ motion to dismiss.

The injunction requires DHS and the ICE New Orleans Field Office to immediately restore the procedures of parole and access to parole, as mandated by DHS’ own 2009 Parole Directive and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. 

“Today’s ruling is a decisive victory for the asylum-seekers our country has cruelly locked away and forgotten about,” said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Luz Lopez. “Since as early as 2017, our clients have been left to wither away in abhorrent detention centers hidden from the public eye, with no legal recourse. The district court today upheld the law and declared that DHS and ICE must comply with our nation’s immigration laws and the Constitution.”

Under the Trump administration, parole approvals for asylum-seekers have dropped sharply, despite a still-applicable 2009 policy directing ICE to release asylum-seekers who satisfy the legal requirements for asylum. The stark drop in parole is most apparent at the ICE New Orleans Field Office, where in 2016, it granted parole in 75.5 percent of cases. By 2018, however, the office granted parole in just two of 130 cases in 2018 – a rate of 1.5 percent. Currently, the number of paroles granted in 2019 is down to zero. 

“The denial of parole to lawful asylum-seekers underscores the brutality of our immigration system,” said ACLU of Louisiana Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton. “Our clients have endured dehumanizing treatment – from excessive solitary confinement to inadequate health care – all the while with virtually no hope of release.” 

The plaintiffs have been confined to remote prisons in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. As the Trump administration weaponizes DHS and ICE to new extremes in its war on immigrants, these Southern states have played a critical role in ICE’s rapid expansion and detention of a record number of migrants. 

“The court confirmed today that asylum-seekers who follow the law have the right to seek parole before an immigration judge,” said SPLC Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative Director Laura Rivera. “Now, we look forward to working with community members to provide the knowledge about how to submit parole applications. ICE must be held to its burden of giving meaningful consideration for detained people’s request for parole.” 

The injunction order can be viewed here and the full opinion can be viewed here