NEW YORK - The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), and Sidley Austin LLP today announced a settlement in Abdi et al. v Mayorkas et al, their 2017 case challenging the blanket denial of parole to asylum seekers screened in at the border and detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia. The proposed settlement secures protections already won in the case requiring that these asylum seekers will be notified of the availability of parole in a language they understand, be given a parole interview with an immigration officer, be provided an explanation for their parole decision and be informed they can seek reconsideration if parole is initially denied.
“Getting released on parole doubles a person’s chance of winning asylum, and this settlement will add an important layer of protection for asylum seekers pursuing their right to a fair immigration proceeding,” said Bobby Hodgson, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “After coming to this country to declare their need for refuge, asylum-seekers should not be locked up indefinitely without a meaningful opportunity to be considered for release.”
After the Trump administration took office, federal immigration officials at Batavia effectively stopped granting parole and bond, leaving dozens of people who fled violence and persecution to languish in jail. Parole is often the only way for asylum seekers who present themselves at a U.S. border or airport to get out of ICE detention, because the government takes the position that they are not eligible to have a bond set by an immigration judge.
“Asylum seekers should be with their families and communities while their immigration cases continue, not locked up unnecessarily and inhumanely,” said Deepa Alagesan, senior supervising attorney at IRAP. “This settlement cements the government’s obligations to comply with its policies and ensure that asylum seekers detained at Batavia have a fair shot at release.”
The case was originally filed in August 2017 and the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in November 2017, ordering the same protections now being codified in the settlement. The Court also ordered asylum seekers who had already had their parole denied to have the opportunity for their requests to be readjudicated.
“I fled Cuba where I was a political prisoner and came to America seeking freedom,” said class representative Johan Barrios Ramos. “I was shocked when I got here and asked for asylum but was instead put in jail. I am so happy that this settlement will ensure that there are limits on ICE’s authority to detain people like me and other asylum seekers in the future."
In rulings on this case, the Court has recognized the severe physical and psychological harms of prolonged detention, and how damaging incarceration is for people trying to prepare for their asylum cases.
“Sidley proudly supports the fair and just treatment of asylum seekers and believes this important class settlement helps ensure those detained in federal immigration custody have a full and fair opportunity to obtain parole while awaiting the outcomes of their immigration proceedings,” said Michael D. Mann, a partner in Sidley’s White Collar: Government Litigation and Investigations practice and member of the firm’s pro bono team. “Our lawyers’ tireless work on this important case reflects our longstanding tradition of and commitment to pro bono service, and, we hope, has contributed to creating a more humane immigration system in the United States.”
The case prompted a number of related lawsuits in states across the country. These lawsuits have won similar parole protections for people detained by ICE across the country.
The NYCLU also filed a separate lawsuit in 2020 addressing the practice of rubber stamping bond denials en masse at the Batavia ICE facility. That case is currently ongoing.
In addition to Hodgson, Alagesan, and Mann, counsel on the case includes NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn, senior staff attorney Amy Belsher, and paralegal Lourdes Chavez; IRAP staff on the case include litigation director Mariko Hirose, senior staff attorney Katie Austin, and staff attorney Geroline Castillo; Sidley attorneys on the case include Heidi Levine, Jim Arden, Amanda Blau, Sarah Goodfield, Alyssa Hasbrouck, Andrew Kunsak, Vincent Margiotta and Allen Thigpen, as well as paralegal Ron Eugenio and project assistant Jenna Ellis.
You can find materials for this case here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/abdi-et-al-v-mayorkas-et-al