The Trump administration is facing the latest legal challenge to its immigration policy on Thursday in federal court in Washington D.C., as the American Civil Liberties Union sues the government over the incarceration of thousands of people seeking asylum in the U.S.
The ACLU is bringing a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, accusing the agencies of wrongfully imprisoning people who U.S. officials have found to have a credible fear of persecution and no criminal records.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the case, which was first filed in March. Both sides were in court on Thursday, with the ACLU seeking a preliminary injunction that would order the court to parole asylum seekers, and the government arguing a motion to dismiss the case.
President Donald Trump listens during a roundtable on immigration policy in California in the cabinet room of the White House on Wednesday, May 16. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging U.S. policy on detaining people seeking asylum. Department of Justice officials have argued that non-Americans who have not been admitted into the U.S. are not entitled to the same protections afforded to people legally admitted into the country
‘Unlike aliens who have already been admitted to the United States, who may have additional due process protections … arriving aliens seeking to enter the United States are not entitled to the same protections,’ DOJ attorneys said in court documents.
The court did not issue a ruling Thursday, though ACLU attorneys have asked the judge to expedite the case.
The ACLU claims the government has started unilaterally imprisoning people as a way to discourage others who may seek asylum in this country.
Asylum seekers are being detained for months – sometimes years -Michael Tan, ACLU
‘Since Trump came into office, five ICE field offices have completely eliminated parole,’ said Michael Tan, an ACLU attorney arguing the case. ‘Asylum seekers are being detained for months – sometimes years – while they’re fighting their cases.’
The Department of Justice said in its motion to dismiss that the ACLU has failed to ‘plausibly demonstrate’ that any such ‘deterrence policy’ exists.
‘Decisions regarding whether individuals will be detained while their immigration proceedings are pending are made by ICE on a case-by-case basis, based on each person’s circumstances,’ ICE officials said in a statement. ‘In making such determinations, ICE-ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) officers weigh a variety of factors, including the individual’s criminal record, immigration history, ties to the community, risk of flight, and whether he or she poses a potential threat to public safety.’
Ansly Damus was an ethics teacher in Haiti, but fled his home country after facing beatings and death threats for speaking out against the corruption of a local politician, ACLU attorneys said. Ansly’s application for asylum was granted by a judge – twice. But the government has appealed the decision and he remains in a detention centre in Chardon, Ohio
None of the people represented in the lawsuit have criminal records. They come from Haiti, Honduras, Cuba, Mexico and El Salvador.
The suit claims five field offices – Detroit; Los Angeles; El Paso, Texas; Newark, New Jersey; and Philadelphia – have acted particularly egregiously, detaining more than 1,000 people, ‘based not on individualized determinations that they pose a flight risk or danger to the community, but rather to deter other migrants from seeking refuge here,’ according to court filings.
The ACLU is alleging the government has violated multiple laws, including the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees due process.
‘Each additional day of detention exacerbates the grave risk to the mental and physical health of these individuals,’ the suit argues.
ACLU attorneys argue that ICE is violating its own policy: The agency established a directive in 2010 with guidance suggesting asylum seekers be paroled once they have been found to have a credible fear of persecution and torture.