The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has rejected a petition submitted by Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and 30 other immigrant and human rights organizations, think tanks, and academics calling on the government to issue regulations favoring the release of detained asylum seekers. The current parole policy violates the U.S. government’s obligations under international and domestic law.
The petition for rulemaking requested the government create enforceable rules to establish a presumption that any asylum seeker who passes a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer and has no criminal history should be released from immigration detention. Immigration judges should have the authority to release asylum seekers from detention, allowing them better access to the lawyers, documentation, and information they need for a meaningful day in court. The petition recognizes that the government retains the authority to produce evidence that would support the continued detention of an asylum seeker under certain circumstances.
There is no logical reason for DHS to detain asylum seekers who pass credible fear interviews and are not dangers to the community. In fact, DHS issued asylum parole guidelines in December 2009 which established that the government should hold custody hearings and consider releasing asylum seekers who pass credible fear interviews. While these 2009 guidelines are a significant improvement over the agency’s previous parole policies, they are not enforceable by law and local immigration offices are not held accountable to comply.
The National Immigrant Justice Center has worked with several clients who are asylum seekers and who passed credible fear interviews but were never provided custody reviews. Recently, NIJC staff met an asylum seeker from Moldova. After she passed her credible fear interview, DHS continued to detain her for three months until NIJC attorneys intervened. The woman was eight months pregnant.
Once again, NIJC calls upon DHS to create fair and enforceable regulations – within 60 days – that respect our nation’s commitment to fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers, comply with U.S. and international laws, and are upheld consistently by DHS officers across the country.