A federal judge in the District of Columbia has effectively ended the Trump administration’s practice of detaining asylum seekers indefinitely and denying them parole, citing that this goes against government policy. The ruling was the result of a challenge brought forth by the ACLU and several other organizations on behalf of nine detained asylum seekers who have been jailed for up to two years. None of these individuals have committed any crimes and all were initially determined to have credible reasons for seeking asylum. The court ordered Department of Homeland Security officials to go back and review the case of each individual involved in the class action suit and decide which of them should be released on humanitarian parole. Furthermore, while the lawsuit is ongoing, the order prevents ICE from detaining any applicants for asylum for more than a week, unless they have reviewed the case and found credible evidence that the individual poses a threat to national security.
The order specifically targets five ICE agents in officers around the country who have stopped granting parole to asylum seekers since early 2017. This practice violates a government directive from 2009 that indicates that people who demonstrate “credible fear” in their initial asylum interview should be at least considered for release while their application makes its way through the courts, a process that often takes months or even years. In the class action suit, the ACLU argued that the Trump administration has been unlawfully detaining asylum seekers in order to deter others from seeking out asylum. The same argument has been made to explain the government’s impetus for invoking the family separation policy. The ACLU pointed to a surge in detention rates to make their case, noting that in the first eight months after President Trump took office, the number of detained asylum seekers shot up to 96 percent. At its lowest, detention rates were less than 10 percent in 2013.
In his opinion, Judge Boasberg noted that “as the events of recent months make clear, the question of how this nation will treat those who come to our shores seeking refuge generates enormous debate.” He mentioned the previous precedent for treating asylum seekers as established in a “Parole Directive” issued by ICE in 2009, which the plaintiffs insisted the government was no longer following, citing the rising detention rates as evidence. The district court judge ultimately sided with the plaintiffs, arguing that his opinion “does no more than hold the Government accountable to its own policy”.