WASHINGTON (AP) – The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Trump administration, claiming it is violating immigration laws and its own policies by detaining immigrants who have a solid case for seeking asylum in the United States.
The ACLU said it filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington claiming that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is detaining many asylum seekers for months while they await hearings before an immigration judge.
Immigrants seeking asylum must initially pass a "credible fear" screening to determine if they face a threat of persecution in their home countries. Those that fail that standard are deported immediately. Previously, those that passed were usually given "humanitarian parole" while awaiting an immigration hearing, provided that they were not considered flight risks or dangers to the public.
The lawsuit claims that under Trump, the number of asylum-seekers granted such parole has dropped to nearly zero in five key ICE field offices: Detroit, El Paso, Texas, Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The ACLU said in a statement that in 2013, nine of 10 asylum seekers from these field offices were released while awaiting immigration hearings.
ICE officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, names several plaintiffs, including a Haitian ethics teacher who has spent 16 months in custody in Chardon, Ohio. The teacher, Ansly Damus, has been granted asylum twice by an immigration judge. But the government continues to appeal the decisions and he remains behind bars. He has not been allowed outside in more than a year, the ACLU said.
In an interview, ACLU attorney Michael Tan charged that the Trump administration is punishing people seeking asylum.
"The United States is trying to send a message to asylum seekers that they need not apply," he said.