WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded a recent federal ruling that barred the Trump administration from detaining asylum seekers without case review.
“The ruling is extremely important for the roughly 1,000 asylum seekers who are currently detained,” said Ashley Feasley, director of policy for the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services office.
“It provides them with an opportunity for release while their asylum case is pending, or to a hearing to prove that they merit release during the pendency of their case,” she told CNA.
On July 2, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to grant asylum seekers a personal case review and to release them while the hearing process is underway.
According to the Washington Post, immigration advocacy groups claim that asylum seekers have been detained indefinitely despite ICE policy requiring that their cases be reviewed within seven days, or that they be released pending a hearing. Reportedly, immigrants have been jailed for months or years at ICE facilities in five major cities: Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Newark, and Philadelphia.
Boasberg’s ruling gave asylum seekers provisional status for class action litigation. He also restricted ICE from holding applicants beyond seven days if their claims had not been personally reviewed and if a written explanation has not been given for the extended detention.
Citing a 2009 directive from the Department of Homeland Security, he said the degree of risk an undocumented asylum seeker poses must be determined on a case-by-case basis. He said immigrants should be released if they can prove credible danger in their home country.
“This Opinion does no more than hold the Government accountable to its own policy, which recently has been honored more in the breach than the observance. Having extended the safeguards of the Parole Directive to asylum seekers, ICE must now ensure that such protections are realized,” he said in a 38-page opinion piece.
Feasley said an accessible asylum program, which personally reviews the claims of endangered migrants, is critical. She said these asylum seekers are traumatized and further detention could worsen the degree of trauma.
“It is important that those fleeing persecution and seeking protection are able to access justice and have their claims evaluated in a thorough and individual way,” she said.
“In many instances, asylum seekers have experienced trauma and being in detention is harmful and can be re-traumatizing.”
The most recent ruling is in response to a class-action lawsuit instigated by the American Civil Liberties Union. The plaintiffs began with nine undocumented immigrants from countries like Haiti and Venezuela. The case now represents over 800 detainees and has gained support from the advocacy group Human Rights First.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in March after discovering higher levels of detention rates during the Trump administration. The advocacy group said detention rates increased to 96 percent during the first eight months of Donald Trump’s presidency – a significant difference from the detention levels which were recorded to be under 10 percent in 2013.
Ansly Damus, a 41-year-old Haiti teacher, is among the plaintiffs. He won an asylum petition twice, after he sought protection from a violent gang, but has been detained for over 16 months while his case is appealed by the government.
For immigrants who have proven that they are not a risk to the country, Feasley said the practice of detainment is very costly compared to other alternative actions.
“Detaining asylum seekers who have demonstrated community ties and are not safety risks is also a very costly practice to the U.S. taxpayer as detention beds run approximately $134/day whereas family placement is free and alternatives to detention are significantly cheaper.”
She also expressed hope that Boasberg’s ruling would aid future asylum seekers and the immigration process.
“It also likely could affect future asylum seekers and their ability to access release from detention while their case is pending.”