UPDATE: On March 31, 2020 the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the ACLU of Louisiana filed an emergency motion seeking the immediate release of asylum seekers who remain under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) amid the spread of COVID-19 in ICE detention centers.
On September 5th, 2019 the U.S. District Court of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction requiring DHS and the ICE New Orleans Field Office to immediately restore the procedures of parole and access to parole, as mandated by DHS’ own 2009 Parole Directive and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana against the Trump administration for categorically denying release to hundreds of people who are languishing in immigration prisons after lawfully seeking asylum in the United States.
The class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of 12 named plaintiffs who, like hundreds of other migrants, sought asylum at official U.S. points of entry in compliance with federal law and then were 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. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency in charge of detaining or releasing the migrants, however, has denied parole across the board, even when people have solid asylum cases and satisfy the legal requirements.
ICE policy requires that asylum seekers be released provided they establish their identity and show they are not a danger or flight risk, according to the lawsuit.
Parole approvals have dropped sharply under President Trump. Fewer than 10 years ago, roughly 90 percent of such asylum seekers were released. Today, at the New Orleans ICE Field Office, which is responsible for confined asylum seekers across several Southeastern states, parole was granted in just two of 130 cases in 2018.
The lawsuit also calls attention to the impact of the dehumanizing treatment – especially the excessive use of solitary confinement and inadequate health care – received daily in immigration prisons, many of which are operated for profit.
One of the plaintiffs, identified as “R.O.P.” in the complaint, is a physician who fled Cuba because authorities demanded that he harm patients for political reasons. He’s among more than 100 Cuban men detained in remote Louisiana immigration prisons.
R.O.P sought asylum at an official U.S. point of entry in Laredo, Texas, in July 2018. He was confined and sent to an immigration prison with the area of responsibility of the New Orleans ICE Field Office. He passed the interview given to asylum seekers to determine whether their fear of harm in their country is credible. He also submitted evidence that he is not a danger to the public, along with a sponsor letter from his fiancée, a U.S. citizen.
Nevertheless, he was denied parole. He has spent nearly a year in detention and is currently being held at Pine Prairie.