Gene Johnson, AP, July 3, 2019
A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday blocked a Trump administration policy that would keep thousands of asylum-seekers locked up while they pursue their cases, saying the Constitution demands that such migrants have a chance to be released from custody.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled Tuesday that people who are detained after entering the country illegally to seek protection are entitled to bond hearings. Attorney General William Barr announced in April that the government would no longer offer such hearings, but instead keep them in custody. It was part of the administration’s efforts to deter a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pechman said that as people who have entered the U.S., they are entitled to the Fifth Amendment’s due-process protections, including “a longstanding prohibition against indefinite civil detention with no opportunity to test its necessity.”
Immigrant rights advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project sued to block the policy, which was due to take effect July 15.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have established a constitutionally-protected interest in their liberty, a right to due process which includes a hearing before a neutral decisionmaker to assess the necessity of their detention, and a likelihood of success on the merits of that issue,” the judge wrote.
Pechman, who heard arguments last Friday, said the government must provide a bond hearing within seven days of a request by any immigrant who has demonstrated that they have a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country. The asylum-seekers must be released if not granted a hearing within that time frame, she said.
Pechman also said the burden must be on the government at such hearings to show that keeping asylum-seekers in custody is necessary because they pose a flight risk or a danger to the public.
President Donald Trump has said he is determined to end the “catch and release” of migrants at the border. He has also called the asylum system broken, saying that some take advantage of it with frivolous claims.