Asylum Seekers Left 'Languishing In Immigration Prisons' Suing Trump Administration For 'Categorically Denying Release'

ICE, detention
An undocumented Mexican immigrant waits to be in-processed at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), center on April 28, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union have launched a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration over the 'categorical' refusal to release hundreds of asylum seekers from custody. John Moore/Getty

The Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana launched a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing the government of "categorically denying release to hundreds of detained asylum seekers left languishing in immigration prisons after lawfully seeking asylum in the United States."

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of 12 plaintiffs, who the SPLC and ACLU said in a press release had "sought asylum at official U.S. points of entry in compliance with federal law" only to be "confined and sent to remote prisons in Louisiana and Alabama."

"Because the law denies them the right to seek release from an immigration judge, they turned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is bound by rules that favor their release on parole," the organizations said.

While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy requires that asylum seekers be released if they are able to establish their identity and demonstrate that they are not a danger or flight risk, the ACLU and SPLC said the agency, which is in charge of detaining or releasing asylum seekers, has "denied parole across the board, even when people have solid asylum cases and satisfy the legal requirements."

According to the organizations, parole approvals have already seen a sharp drop under the Trump administration. Whereas less than 10 years ago, roughly 90 percent of asylum seekers who met the legal requirements for release were discharged from federal custody. Today, the groups said, ICE offices like the New Orleans ICE Field Office, which is responsible for the confinement of asylum seekers across several Southeastern states, saw parole granted in just two of 130 cases in 2018.

"Like hundreds of people being held in multiple ICE detention centers in the Deep South, our asylum-seeking plaintiffs are being punished for following the law," said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Luz Virginia Lopez.

"They followed the legal checklist by first presenting themselves at a point of entry, and this is how America is paying them back—with cruelty and disrespect for the law," Virginia Lopez added.

In addition to demanding the release of asylum seekers meeting the requirements for discharge, the lawsuit also calls attention to the effects of the "dehumanizing treatment—especially the excessive use of solitary confinement and inadequate healthcare-received daily in immigration prisons," many of which, the organizations noted, "are operated for profit."

"Across this nation, there is a consensus-building that incarceration does much more harm than good to our communities," said SPLC Staff Attorney Laura Rivera.

"Yet, as criminal justice reforms lead to lower rates of incarceration, this administration is filling jails and prisons with record numbers of migrants—more than 53,000 at last count. It's causing untold human suffering, and it's violating the law," she added.