NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana is demanding the immediate release on humanitarian parole of Manuel Amaya Portillo, an asylum-seeker with severe disabilities currently detained at LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana. Amaya Portillo, who faces persecution in his home country of Honduras due to his disability, is set for a bond hearing on Friday, January 10. 

“Manuel faces serious risk of harm in detention due to his disability and continues to be denied sufficient medical treatment and accommodations as required under the ADA,” said Katie Schwartzmann, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “Manuel clearly meets the criteria for humanitarian parole and should be released immediately to prevent further harm to his health and safety.”  

Amaya Portillo suffers from obvious and severe congenital physical disabilities. He is twenty-three years old and is only approximately four feet tall. His left leg is malformed and approximately half the length of his right leg. He has suffered from neurological and heart issues that have required extensive surgery. As a result of his disability and obvious physical deformities, Amaya Portillo has suffered significant stigma, persecution, and torture in Honduras. 

In a letter to ICE’s New Orleans Field Office, the ACLU of Louisiana noted that during the first two months of his detention, Amaya Portillo was never given a wheelchair or accessible housing and “continues to face significant challenges in accessing facilities critical to his daily functioning.” 

Amaya Portillo was initially detained at the Winn Correctional Facility in Winnfield, Louisiana, where he was placed in a medical cell and given sedatives during an inspection – possibly because of the obvious failure of the facility to accommodate his needs.

“Seeking asylum is a legal right, but the Trump administration has continued to subject asylum seekers like Manuel Amaya Portillo to unconscionable and unlawful cruelty right here in Louisiana,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director. “We will not stand by while ICE uses private contractors to detain and abuse vulnerable people exercising their right to seek asylum at our borders.” 

In September, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction in a case by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and ACLU of Louisiana challenging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE’s illegal practice of denying parole to detained asylum-seekers who lawfully present themselves at official ports of entry. The injunction requires 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. 

Under the Trump administration, parole approvals for asylum-seekers have dropped sharply, despite a still-applicable 2009 policy directing ICE to release asylum-seekers who satisfy the legal requirements for asylum. The stark drop in parole is most apparent at the ICE New Orleans Field Office, where in 2016, it granted parole in 75.5 percent of cases. By 2018, however, the office granted parole in just two of 130 cases in 2018 – a rate of 1.5 percent. 

Amaya Portillo is also being represented by Eunice Cho at ACLU National Prison Project and Rachel Chappell at the Rozas and Rozas Law Firm of Baton Rouge, La.

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