The Department of Justice has refused to issue regulations that would allow immigration judges to decide whether to detain asylum seekers who are determined to have viable cases and pose no threat to society.
The administration released its decision in response to a petition for rulemaking submitted by Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and 30 other national and international immigrant and human rights organizations in March 2010. The groups proposed regulations that built on President Obama’s plan for “civil” immigration detention reform and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) 2009 asylum parole guidelines. The proposed rules would ensure that an arriving asylum seeker who is detained after requesting asylum at a port of entry and subsequently denied release has the right to present her cases to a judge. NIJC, represented by pro bono attorneys at Winston & Strawn LLP, sued the government last year for its failure to respond to the petition.
“These individuals are fleeing persecution in their home countries and our response is to lock them up in a jail, then deny them an opportunity to have a judge review DHS’s decision to detain them,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “This policy violates basic notions of fairness and undermines the checks and balances in our democracy.”
Earlier this month, the Obama administration celebrated the opening of Karnes Detention Center in Texas, which it lauded as the beginning of a new era in immigration detention. The administration failed to mention that as a low-security prison, the new facility’s inmates will include asylum seekers fleeing torture and persecution.
“More than two years after the Obama administration promised to make the immigration detention system more ‘civil,’ the government is expanding the system’s capacity and detaining men and women who should not be detained at all, while failing to provide adequate due process to detained asylum seekers,” McCarthy said. “The administration’s response to our proposal is only the latest in a series of actions that show President Obama’s lack of commitment to true reform.”