American Gateways was extraordinarily disappointed to learn of Attorney General Barr’s decision yesterday evening to deny some asylum seekers’ the right to request release on bond from immigration detention, pending the outcome of their asylum case.
This decision, which applies to any asylum seeker apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) between official points of entry into the United States, heightens the risk of serious harm to an already vulnerable population. In essence, and in conjunction with previous Trump Administration measures that limit asylum seeker’s access to U.S. government protection at lawful points of entry, those seeking refuge are left with a dangerous choice: indefinite detention in the U.S. or an indefinite wait in hazardous conditions along Mexico’s northern border.
American Gateways provides regular legal and educational services at several immigration detention centers in Central Texas. Despite characterizations to the contrary, the process for seeking a bond while in immigration detention prior to this decision was neither quick nor simple. Those seeking a bond could expect several weeks of waiting for a credible fear interview. During that interview, they would be expected to share the most traumatic moments of their life over the phone with a stranger who is at best disinterested in their story and, at worst, actively hostile to it. Assuming they met the ever-increasing burden for passing a credible fear interview, at that point they are only eligible for a bond and in most instances would still need to organize and submit an application packet to an Immigration Judge, no easy feat.
Denying the possibility of a bond poses enormous burdens on detained asylum seekers. Generally, hundreds of miles from the Immigration Judge presiding over their case, or the ICE attorney who will almost universally oppose relief, asylum applicants must litigate their case alone, without access to lawyer, evidence, or sometimes even a basic understanding of the application process. All of this occurs in a context that is highly stressful and, in many cases, presents significant risks to their mental and physical health. The denial rates for asylum seekers without representation hover around 90% and will likely increase in light of this decision.
American Gateways stands to the fundamental human rights of asylum seekers, including basic due process rights. Indefinite detention is a major attack on those rights. We call on Attorney General Barr and the Trump Administration to reverse this decision. Further, we urge them to change fundamentally their approach to asylum seekers from enforcement first to one the establishes mechanisms allowing that allow asylum seekers to litigate their cases quickly and fairly, with full access to legal assistance. Only then will we see this Administration’s self-made crisis on the border begin to diminish.
In the interim, American Gateways stands ready to provide legal education and information to as many asylum seekers as possible throughout Central Texas.