ACLU sues to stop policy on jailing asylum seekers

By Lisa Baumann
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are again going to court to challenge the Trump administration, this time over its policy to bar detained asylum seekers from asking a judge to grant them bond.

The American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a class-action lawsuit over the policy in U.S. District Court in Seattle late last week.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in mid-April that asylum seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country and are facing removal don’t have the right to be released on bond by an immigration court judge while their cases are pending.

Usually, an asylum seeker who crosses between ports of entry would have the right to ask a judge to grant them bond for release. Under the new ruling, they will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated.

Michael Tan, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the policy unconstitutionally strips people of their right to a hearing.
“At the end of the day, the government doesn't get to lock people up without due process,” Tan said. “And the most basic part of due process is a hearing to determine whether a person should be locked up or not.”

Barr’s ruling is scheduled to take effect in mid-July and comes amid a frustrating time for the administration as the number of border crossers has climbed sharply. Most are families from Central America who are fleeing violence and poverty. Many seek asylum.

Trina Realmuto, directing attorney with the American Immigration Council, called the ruling part of the administration’s crusade to deter and prevent asylum seekers from requesting protection in the United States.

“We will continue fighting the administration’s use of mass incarceration as a weapon to punish migrants,” Realmuto said in a statement.

There were 161,000 asylum applications filed in the last fiscal year and 46,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

The number of decisions by immigration judges that President Donald Trump’s administration has referred to itself for review is unprecedented, according to Sarah Pierce, policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

The administration — under both Barr and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — has reviewed a total of 10 immigration rulings. That’s compared to four under President Barack Obama’s tenure and nine during George W. Bush’s.