The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California and affiliated organizations filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thursday in San Francisco’s Northern District court, alleging that the federal agency is refusing to release documents that “would shed light on ICE’s treatment of asylum seekers,” according to a press release.
The ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law last year sent Freedom of Information Act requests to ICE, requesting data on the agency’s parole decisions for asylum seekers dating back to 2010, as well as any related policy documents that would provide insight on the process behind parole decisions.
ICE officials largely ignored the requests for information, according to the ACLU.
The ACLU is seeking this information because it appears that ICE is denying parole to a high percentage of asylum seekers, in violation of one of the agency’s policies.
The ACLU alleges that since “at least November of 2014, ICE has been denying parole to asylum seekers even though they meet the criteria of an ICE policy directive that calls for their release.” Documents from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom revealed that in 2012, 80 percent of asylum seekers who established a credible fear were released on parole. In 2015, that number was 47 percent.
The parole numbers from 2012 largely can be attributed to a January 2010 ICE policy directive stating that “when an arriving alien found to have a credible fear establishes to the satisfaction of [ICE] his or her identity and that he or she presents neither a flight risk nor danger to the community, [ICE] should”–absent “exceptional, overriding factors”–“parole the alien on the basis that his or her continued detention is not in the public interest.”
Michael Tan, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement expressed concern that the prolonged detention of asylum seekers is meant to be a message to others fleeing “persecution, extreme violence, and even death” in their countries of origin.
“It doesn’t make sense to detain people up who don’t pose a danger and have a strong incentive to show up for court,” Tan said in a statement. “They have a right to seek protection under U.S. and international law.”
ICE declined Rewire’s request for an interview on the lawsuit.