Back to All Commentary

The Trump Admin is Fighting to Keep Asylum-Seekers Locked Up

Seeking Asylum sign at NYC rally
By: Simon McCormack Senior Writer, Communications

Asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution arrive at our borders thinking they’ve finally found safety and opportunity. But instead of protecting them, the Trump administration imprisons them for months or even years with no fair chance at release.

That’s why the New York Civil Liberties Union will be in court on Monday fighting against the administration’s efforts to roll back basic constitutional protections for asylum-seekers.

There are two primary ways asylum-seekers can get released while they wait for their claims to be heard. One is known as parole in the immigration context, in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agrees to let out a person they are jailing. The other is through bond, in which an immigration judge orders a person held by ICE to be freed.

In 2017, the NYCLU and the International Refugee Assistance Project asked a federal court to end the unlawful prolonged detention of asylum-seekers imprisoned at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York. In November of that same year, a federal district court sided with us. The judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring that the Trump administration  ensure fair parole procedures and provide bond hearings before an immigration judge for those detained six months or more.

Then last year, the Supreme Court ruled that asylum-seekers held for more than six months awaiting their asylum hearing do not have a legal right to bond hearings. But the court declined to decide whether they have a constitutional right to these hearings after six months. In other words, the majority on the Court said there was no law passed by Congress that guaranteed these hearings, but did not opine on whether the rights inherent in the Constitution require that these hearings take place.

Relying on this opinion, the Trump administration is now asking the district court to erase its 2017 injunction, leaving asylum-seekers at Batavia to languish in jail with no fair way out. In court next week, we will argue that the injunction should stand because the Constitution protects asylum-seekers from arbitrary imprisonment and guarantees fair review of their detention when it lasts six months or more.

It is time to stop arbitrarily imprisoning those who seek refuge at our borders.

Giving asylum-seekers the chance to get bond is critical because it allows them to make their case to an impartial judge that they should be released. Even though certain asylum-seekers may apply for parole, this process is deeply flawed without court intervention. It essentially allows the jailor (ICE) to decide whether to release someone, without anyone holding the jailors accountable.

When officers make unfair decisions, asylum-seekers deserve an opportunity to show a neutral decision-maker, a judge, that they don’t pose a flight or security risk and should be released on bond.

Many of the plaintiffs in our case can’t wait to see their family and friends in America. And all of them are desperate to prepare their asylum cases. Proving to a judge that they fear persecution abroad is hard enough when they are forced to flee at a moment’s notice with few documents and possessions. But it is much harder to gather evidence when locked up in a jail, where international calls cost several dollars a minute, detainees have no internet access, and confinement exacerbates the trauma of past suffering.

The court’s 2017 injunction has made a big difference for asylum-seekers at Batavia.

Before the judge’s decision, the number of asylum-seekers who were granted parole had trickled down close to zero. Now, more than 80 percent of those who ask for parole are set free.

Nearly 100 people have been released from Batavia on parole or bond since we won the injunction, including an asylum-seeker from Cameroon who fled his native country after he was arrested by police for his political activism. He spent four months locked up in various detention facilities throughout the U.S. before eventually getting transferred to Batavia where he was finally released on parole.

“I was so happy when I was freed,” he told us. “Everything a man wants is freedom and to be safe.”

The Trump administration deserves plenty of blame for trying to keep asylum-seekers in jail, but this practice has gone on for decades under multiple administrations.

It is time to stop arbitrarily imprisoning those who seek refuge at our borders.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union