Despite a federal judge’s order preventing immigration officials from arbitrarily holding asylum-seeking immigrants in federal detention, attorneys representing some of the detainees said Tuesday that the majority of the immigrants are still locked up for no reason.
Last month, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from denying parole to asylum-seekers without an individual determination as to why. The lawsuit includes as defendants the El Paso, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia ICE field offices. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.
Michael Tan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the lead lawyers on the case, said that as of last week ICE had granted parole to about 25 percent of the asylum-seekers included in the lawsuit.
It’s a far cry from the 90 percent rate that existed before President Donald Trump took office, he said, which leads the attorneys to believe that ICE continues to detain people without cause.
“There are reasons to believe that the government continues to ignore its own parole policy,” he said. That policy states that a person seeking asylum who has established his or her true identity should be released if they are not a flight risk or a threat to the public at large.
Tan said he understands that ICE officials aren’t required to grant parole to everyone, but he said that after speaking to attorneys working on the ground in the five field offices, ICE agents are still “checking boxes” for the sole purpose of denying the relief.
“To be clear, I am not saying there is some magic number,” he said. “[But] they are being denied parole based on a boilerplate checklist.”
From July 2, when Boasberg issued the order, through August 17, 145 out of 563 asylum-seekers had been granted parole. That includes 78 of the 286 El Paso cases.
A spokesperson in the El Paso ICE field office did not respond to a request for comment.
Kristen Greer Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico who is representing some of the asylum-seekers being held in El Paso and New Mexico, said ICE officials don’t explain the reasons a person was denied parole once their case is reviewed.
“It is sort of a blanket statement that the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community, or hasn’t presented adequate evidence to prove their identity,” she said. “ICE appears to be using, for example, the flight risk [excuse] even when people have presented robust evidence of having a sponsor who is either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident in the United States who has the means and commitment to make sure the person has the means to show up at the immigration proceedings.”
Love added that most of the people she’s spoken to have been detained since they arrived at the port of entry and sought asylum, which makes it impossible that they have a criminal history in this country.
Tan said the ACLU will ask the judge to grant its motion for more discovery to see if ICE can show it is complying with the order. The judge also asked the agency to submit a monthly report of parole determinations until further notice.
“It’s basically a fact-finding process where we can investigate whether the government is in fact complying the court order. If it’s not … we’ll ask the court to order additional remedies,” he said.