NEW ORLEANS – The ACLU of Louisiana announced today that Manuel Amaya Portillo, an asylum-seeker with severe disabilities currently detained at LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, has been granted humanitarian parole. Amaya Portillo faced persecution in his home country of Honduras due to his disability and was being denied disability accommodations and sufficient medical treatment in detention. Amaya Portillo will spend his humanitarian parole with a sponsor in New Jersey while his case proceeds.
“The discrimination and abuse Manuel suffered in detention is inexcusable, and we’re relieved DHS has granted our request for humanitarian parole, ”said Katie Schwartzmann, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “This is good news, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are thousands more asylum seekers suffering from brutal conditions in remote detention centers across the state, many of whom are held in facilities run by private, for profit operators. 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.”
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 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the ACLU 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 locked in a medical cell and given sedatives during a facility oversight inspection – possibly because of the obvious failure of the facility to accommodate his needs.
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.