On Friday, in a groundbreaking decision, a federal judge in Seattle dealt a blow to the government’s campaign to deter and obstruct asylum seekers applying for protection in the United States. Judge Marsha Pechman ordered the government to provide certain individuals with bona fide asylum claims either a bond hearing before an immigration judge within seven days of their request or to release them from detention. Ruling on a nationwide class action lawsuit, Pechman further ordered that, at those bond hearings, the government must justify continued detention, record the hearing, produce the recording or transcript on appeal, and produce a written decision with individualized findings at the conclusion of the hearing. The government has 30 days to implement these measures, which will impact thousands of asylum seekers currently detained across the United States. In shifting the burden of justifying continued detention from the noncitizen to the government, the court noted that “[i]n every other context (both civil and criminal detention), the Government bears the burden of proof regarding suitability for release.” The court’s order is the first nationwide ruling placing this burden on the government at an initial bond hearing. The case is Padilla v. Sessions and the plaintiffs and nationwide classes of asylum seekers are represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) and the American Immigration Council. “This is a tremendous first step toward more equitable bond hearings for asylum seekers,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “These protections are essential in order to ensure that detention is not used as punishment or a mechanism to block asylum applicants from asserting their rights to seek protection.” “The court’s decision recognizes the physical and psychological suffering that asylum seekers have been forced to endure for weeks and months as they await bond hearings,” said Trina Realmuto, directing attorney at the American Immigration Council. “We are thrilled that under the court’s order, our class members will receive prompt bond hearings with basic due process protections.” The court’s decision can be read here, as well as the amended complaint, the court’s order granting nationwide class certification, and the court’s orders denying the government’s motion to dismiss.
Despite the Trump administration’s tougher immigration policies, the Department of Homeland Security says the number of migrants seeking asylum in the US along the border with Mexico went up nearly 70% from 2017 to 2018, according to CNN. You may recall that President Trump signed a proclamation in November preventing migrants who enter the country illegally from seeking asylum. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says the dramatic increase in asylum-seekers is “straining border security.” He also says Congress needs to “Address these vulnerabilities in our immigration system which continue to negatively impact border security efforts.”
Refugees seeking asylum in the United States now face an even more difficult process after President Trump signed a presidential proclamation limiting applications to official ports of entry. CNN explains:
The proclamation put into effect a new rule the Trump administration entered into the federal registry on Friday that would ban migrants from applying for asylum outside of official ports of entry. The American Civil Liberties Union has already called the rule “illegal,” and legal challenges are expected to follow.However, The Daily Beast reports that even those who are following the latest orders are being turned away because of bottlenecks resulting at official ports of entry. And HuffPost has more on the ongoing fight to get justice for migrants being detained at the border by ICE.
Many of the migrants trying to enter the United States at the Mexico border are seeking asylum, or protection from persecution. These asylum seekers may not know much about how the process works or what kinds of protection it offers. They may also not know how to apply for asylum or whether they qualify. The American Immigration Council has created a document to answer those questions that’s available for downloading.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he is taking away a vital lifeline to immigrant victims of severe domestic and gang violence. Sessions issued a decision unilaterally overruling important precedent recognizing that such individuals may qualify for asylum in the United States. Critics say Sessions’ decision to end asylum for most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence takes US “back to the Dark Ages,” according to The Washington Post. The American Immigration Council has also criticized the decision. The following is a statement from Beth Werlin, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council. “From its earliest days, the United States has opened its doors to individuals fleeing oppression and persecution. Today’s decision by the Attorney General is yet another attempt to close our doors. Through our work serving detained mothers and children in Dilley, Texas, we see firsthand the trauma of domestic and gang violence and the desperate need for protection. The Attorney General’s decision—if permitted to stand—will no doubt result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs. Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration.” Sessions’ decision on asylum follows another controversial action that allows the separation of immigrant parents from their children.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ war on asylum cities and states continues, the Justice Department has begun to change the definition of who qualifies for asylum protection. Sessions is placing stricter limits on who can qualify for asylum in America. Immigration lawyers are warning that this could result in thousands of people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries being turned away once they reach the US. NPR takes a look at how these changes could affect those seeking asylum.