U.S. authorities are leaving asylum seekers in prison indefinitely despite a court injunction commanding immigration officials to review their parole requests.
American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) lawyers say that hundreds of asylum plaintiffs have been denied release from prison since 2017 because at least five Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices are sitting on their parole requests, forcing aspirants to wait in limbo in prison.
Last July U.S. district judge in Washington, D.C., James E Boasberg, issued an injunction ruling ICE offices in El Paso, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey must begin to review “humanitarian parole” applications. These offices manage approximately a quarter of the country’s asylum cases. The original case was brought forth by nine plaintiffs in March of this year.
Prior to the President Donald Trump administration over 90 percent of asylum applicants were permitted release. Claimants can then live and work in the United States while their asylum requests are considered.
However since Trump took office in January 2017 practically no paroles have been granted, though ICE officials claim there has been no official policy change.
Linda Corchado, an El Paso immigration attorney, told The Guardian that the city’s ICE office has denied all 349 parole requests it received between February and September 2017.
“For my clients, humanitarian parole was dead a year ago and it continues to be dead,” Corchado said.
When the ACLU first presented its case, one of the agency's lawyers involved in the suit, Michael Tan, said that the practice of releasing asylum seekers is “still in place on paper” but “is effectively a dead letter” in practice.
ICE authorities have refused to comment to reporters about the parole process.
The ACLU has not been able to tally the total number of parole refusals since the injunction in part because many of those still imprisoned lack legal counsel. However, says ACLU lawyer, Kristin Love, by not examining parole requests ICE is violating the court order.
Love adds that lawyers of detainees don’t know what information ICE needs to set people free if their cases haven’t even been examined. “It’s concerning to see that some of these problems persist even after the judge’s order, which clearly stated that ICE needed to do a case-by-case review of people’s parole applications,” said Love.
Several asylum seekers whose parole requests are being managed by the El Paso office told The Guardian that ICE officials informed them that parole was not an option.
Nathalie, a social activist who faced certain death had she stayed in her home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been imprisoned in El Paso for nearly a year and a half. Her brother, who is a US citizen in Ohio provided evidence that he could sponsor Nathalie and take her to court dates, which prior to Trump was sufficient for parole. Her request was denied in 2017.
“In 2017 I asked why I didn’t get parole. The officer said all parole was suspended in El Paso,” Nathalie said.
Officially, parole was never suspended at ICE facilities, according to the agency. Yet, many detainees at the El Paso facility say they were told by agents that parole ended with Trump.
“Several of my colleagues told me that their deportation officers have said there is no more parole,” said Musa another political activist, who fled the Gambia.
On 27 July, ICE officials posted notices in all detention centers involved in the injunction telling detainees that they had two days to re-apply for parole.
Corchado’s clients went through the reconsideration process and were quickly denied with little to an explanation as to why.
Many blame racism. “Africans are treated horribly here. And if you’re African and Muslim, it’s worse,” said Bissoko, an asylum seeker from Mali, who is Muslim.
Love said the ACLU is considering “a non-compliance motion that the government’s not really evaluating the cases on a case-by-case basis.”
Judge Boasberg has scheduled another hearing date in the case for 28 August.