Judge blocks ICE from denying parole to asylum-seekers without proper review

Louisiana

BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – (9/6/19) A federal judge has issued a ruling which could impact federal ICE detainees being held in Bossier Parish.

There are currently 300 detainees being held at the Bossier Maximum Security Facility, according to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office. It’s not clear how many of them are seeking asylum in the U.S., but it could mean at least temporary freedom for those that are if the government complies with a preliminary injunction ordered Thursday by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg Thursday.

The injunction orders the ICE field office in New Orleans — which covers Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee — to go back to following the agency’s parole policy regarding government procedures for determining whether asylum-seekers can be released while awaiting hearings in their cases.

Established by the DHS in 2009, the policy requires people to be released if they don’t pose a threat to public safety or a flight risk. It also requires individualized case reviews and other measures to ensure asylum seekers understand the process and the reasoning behind the decisions that are made.

The order comes amid a lawsuit filed on behalf of a dozen asylum seekers who say they were detained and denied release through a process known as parole. The suit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, claims the New Orleans Field Office has effectively rescinded the DHS “Parole Directive,” and instead have been denying all asylum seekers parole as a matter of policy.

In his ruling, Judge Boasberg cites a similar injunction ordered last summer in a case involving five other Immigrations and Customs Enforcement field offices around the country in noting that it’s not the first time the court has ordered the government to follow its own policy.

“Specifically, those plaintiffs successfully maintained that ICE was violating the Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Parole Directive,’ a policy memorandum that sets forth procedural requirements for determining whether an asylum-seeker is eligible for pre-hearing release on parole.”

The judge goes on say that “In issuing an injunction of this nature for a second time, this court again simply holds the Government to the policy that it purports to already be following.”

The judge wrote that the plaintiffs in this case have offered substantial evidence that the New Orleans Field Office had stopped following the directive, showing that parole denials have risen dramatically since 2016.

“First, the sheer percentage of asylum-seekers denied parole by the New Orleans Field Office offers them powerful ammunition. In 2016, the Office denied parole in only 24.5% of the 229 decisions made. In 2017, that denial rate skyrocketed to 82% of 78 decisions. In 2018, it rose even higher to 98.5% of 130 decisions. Finally, it has attained the unsurpassable height of a 100% denial rate this year.”

U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE JAMES E. BOASBERG

In fact, Boasberg noted, the most recent denial rates are even higher than those of some of the other ICE field offices found to be out of compliance with the directive in last summer’s case, including Los Angeles and Detroit.

“Indeed, as of 2018, the New Orleans Field Office maintained the highest rate of parole denials of any field office in the United States.”

That’s in spite of the fact that the DHS generally and the New Orleans Field Office specifically have continued to proclaim that the directive remains in full force and effect, “Yet Defendants offer absolutely no explanation for the precipitous nosedive in the parole-grant rates issued by an Office that has allegedly preserved the same underlying policy for making those decisions all along.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for asylum-seekers the United States has cruelly locked away and forgotten about,” said Luz Lopez, SPLC senior supervising attorney in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “As early as 2017, our clients have languished in abhorrent detention centers hidden from the public eye, with no legal recourse. This ruling makes it clear that DHS and ICE must follow our nation’s immigration laws and respect the U.S. Constitution.”

Bossier Parish Correctional Facilities began housing ICE detainees in June 2018 with up to 240 beds, according to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office. They now have up to 320 beds available at the Bossier Maximum Security Facility. They say various countries are represented among the 300 currently being held there, and that the average stay for an ICE detainee is around 60 days. The parish is paid $62 a day from the federal government for each detainee.

It’s one of more than a dozen jails and detention centers that ICE is using in Louisiana and Mississippi to primarily hold asylum seekers. According to NBC news, more than people 6,500 were being detained in Louisiana by ICE last month, second only to Texas.

As of Thursday afternoon, Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington had “not seen or heard anything from ICE officials that would change their process of incarceration of ICE detainees,” according to BPSO Public Information Officer Bill Davis. For now, Davis said, it’s business as usual.

You can read about the court case below.

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