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US Immigration Officers Accused of Refusing Parole for Asylum Seekers
Wednesday, 22 August 2018 13:33

Moore writes: "Detainees and their lawyers say five field offices are issuing blanket denials for humanitarian parole, violating a court order."

Virtually no paroles have been granted at five Ice field offices under the Trump administration. (photo: Getty)
Virtually no paroles have been granted at five Ice field offices under the Trump administration. (photo: Getty)

US Immigration Officers Accused of Refusing Parole for Asylum Seekers

By Robert Moore, Guardian UK

22 August 18

Detainees and their lawyers say five field offices are issuing blanket denials for humanitarian parole, violating a court order

S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers are ignoring a court order that says they must end a practice of blanket refusal to allow asylum seekers to go free while courts decide their fate, several detainees and their lawyers say.

US district judge James E Boasberg of Washington DC, issued an injunction in July that said Ice must decide whether to grant “humanitarian parole” to asylum seekers by examining each individual case, in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year.

Before the Trump administration, more than 90% of people who applied for asylum at US ports of entry were granted parole, which allowed them to live and work in the United States while their request was considered.

But at five Ice field offices covered by the ACLU lawsuit, virtually no paroles were granted after Trump took office, even though administration officials said there had been no change in parole policy, lawyers said.

Linda Corchado, an immigration attorney in El Paso, said all 349 parole requests made to that city’s Ice field office between February and September 2017 were denied. Despite the court order, she said her clients continue to be denied parole, without any individual explanation.

“For my clients, humanitarian parole was dead a year ago and it continues to be dead,” she said.

Ice officials did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit and the parole process.

The Ice field offices covered by Boasberg’s injunction are El Paso, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia and Newark, New Jersey. Those offices handle about a quarter of all the asylum requests made by people presenting at ports of entry, which is a legal means of entry into the United States. For many people around the world, it is the only means available to them for legal entry into the US.

The ACLU has not yet calculated the number of parole reconsideration requests, or the denial rates, at the five ICE field offices since the court order, partly because many people do not have legal representation.

But in continuing to use standardized forms to deny parole, ICE is violating the court order and making it difficult for detainees and their lawyers to know what evidence the agency needs to set people free, said Kristin Love, an ACLU attorney based in New Mexico.

“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,” Love said.

Nathalie, a political activist who said she fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo because she faced certain death, has been detained in El Paso area Ice facilities for almost a year and a half. She has a brother who is a US citizen in Ohio who offered to sponsor her and ensure she made her court dates, which in the past would have led to parole. But her request was rejected shortly after Trump became president.

“In 2017 I asked why I didn’t get parole. The officer said all parole was suspended in El Paso,” Nathalie said. Like other detainees interviewed in El Paso, she asked that only her first name be used because of fear of retribution in her home country.

Officially, parole was never suspended in El Paso or elsewhere, according to Ice. Shortly after Trump took office, the then homeland security, secretary John Kelly, issued a memo reiterating that the 2009 Ice directive that gave a presumption of parole for asylum seekers remained in effect. But numerous detainees have said they were told that parole ended when Trump took office.

“Several of my colleagues told me that their deportation officers have said there is no more parole,” said Musa, who fled the Gambia after leading judicial reform initiatives. Even with the warnings, Musa remained hopeful. “With the evidence I provided, it came as a surprise” when his parole request was denied, Musa said. He filed a request for reconsideration of parole in February, but never heard back.

Immigration lawyers say parole became increasingly difficult to obtain at the El Paso Ice detention center at the end of the Obama administration, before stopping completely when Trump became president. Bissoko, who fled the west African country of Mali and sought asylum at an El Paso port of entry in December 2016, said an Austin agency that helps immigrants offered to house him and teach him English if he received parole.

His request was denied on 6 January 2017, two weeks before Trump took the oath of office. “I was very, very sad. I didn’t come to this country to be imprisoned,” he said.

On 13 May, six days after the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said the Trump administration was beginning its “zero-tolerance” policy that included separating parents and children who crossed the border illegally, a man from El Salvador named Ricardo came to an El Paso port of entry with his 15-year-old daughter and requested asylum. US officials repeatedly stressed that people applying for asylum at ports of entry would not be separated from their children.

But Ricardo said US Customs and Border Protection officers took his daughter from him without explanation. “I asked, where did you take her? And one of them said: ‘We are the law now,’” Ricardo said tearfully in an interview. He was taken to the El Paso Ice detention center and she was taken to a children’s shelter in Houston.

Ricardo has a sister in Texas who took in his daughter in early June. But when a federal judge ruled a couple of weeks later that the government had to reunite all parents and children separated at the border, the Trump administration said Ricardo and an unknown number of other parents weren’t covered by the order because their children had been placed with family members.

While Ricardo watched other fathers in the El Paso detention center go free to be with their children, he remained behind bars, even though he had passed the government’s credible fear interview and had not been charged with any crime.

His only hope for being reunited with his daughter was for Ice to grant him parole, but his request was denied. “I sent a request asking why my parole was denied. They sent a letter back that just said parole denied,” Ricardo said.

On 27 July, Ice officials posted notices in El Paso and the four other detention centers covered by the injunction telling detainees that they had the right to reconsideration of their parole requests. Some detainees were told they had two days to gather evidence to support their parole application.

Several of Corchado’s clients went through the parole reconsideration process and were quickly denied, via a form that that relied on checked boxes without any further explanation of what criteria Ice used in its parole determination.

Detainees interviewed at the El Paso detention facility said only a small number of people from Cuba and Venezuela – countries with hostile relationships with the United States – have received parole since the injunction. African detainees say no one from that continent has received parole in El Paso in almost two years. About 80 or so Africans are being held at the main El Paso detention facility, they said.

Many blame racism. “Africans are treated horribly here. And if you’re African and Muslim, it’s worse,” said Bissoko, the man 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”. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for 28 August. your social media marketing partner