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Federal Court Blocks ICE's 'Arbitrary' Detentions Of Asylum Seekers


We're turning to the immigration story now. While much of the focus in recent weeks has been on the migrant children separated from their families after crossing the southern border, last week, there was also an important development affecting asylum-seekers.

A federal judge found that the Trump administration has been keeping hundreds of people locked up indefinitely who have qualified for asylum. Lawyers for these individuals have been criticizing this practice as arbitrary, punitive and a violation of the government's own policies.

Hardy Vieux is an attorney and director of Human Rights First. His group represents one of the people that sued the U.S. government over this issue. And he's with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Hardy Vieux, thanks so much for joining us.

HARDY VIEUX: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

MARTIN: So could you just explain how the process has worked up to this point and what's happening now?

VIEUX: In the past, when an asylum-seeker presented themselves at the border, the government would take that person into custody, and then soon after, give them what's called a credible fear interview. It's an interview to determine whether that person has a significant possibility of eventually succeeding on their claim for asylum.

So that would take place. If they passed that credible fear interview, then the government would go through sort of a three-step checklist to determine whether that person can be let out of immigration detention.

What we've seen since January 2017 of this - since this president took office is that a number of these government offices that oversee these detentions have not been paroling people. And that effected somewhere north of a thousand individuals who weren't a flight risk. And now the government is saying we're not letting you go. And best part is they never actually told them why.

MARTIN: OK. Well, just tell me about the client that you're representing. Tell me about this person's particular circumstances.

VIEUX: So we - we're representing nine clients, but the lead plaintiff is a Haitian gentleman whose last name is Damu (ph). He was an ethics professor in Haiti. He fled persecution there. A gang attacked him, burned his motorcycle, threatened his life. He flees the country, eventually makes it to the United States. And while he's here, he seeks asylum, and he gets set. He also passes as credible fear interview.

Notwithstanding the fact that he passed that interview and he gets asylum, the government doesn't let him out of detention in Ohio. And so they keep him there. So then, he goes and gets asylum a second time. And the government again - that was in January of 2018 - the government still has not let him out of detention.

MARTIN: So what did the judge say in response to this case that you brought?

VIEUX: The judge is saying, United States government, you have to follow that directive that you put in place in December of 2009. What the Government's been doing is just these sort of blanket denials, and the judge is saying you can't do it, right? So going forward, starting on when the ruling was issued on July 2, the government has to go back and give each of these people an individualized determination. They have to look at person by person as to why they can't give parole.

MARTIN: That particular person cannot be released on parole.

VIEUX: Precisely.

MARTIN: Do you have a sense of whether ICE is acting on its own or have you determined whether this is a directive from the administration?

VIEUX: We're not sure, but our belief is that it's probably upper-level because it's five ICE offices that oversee a number of states. And the fact that the statistics now show that almost no one is being paroled in those five ICE field offices suggests that there might be some coordination here. There might be a greater messaging involved.

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I mean, it seems to me that, in your case, you're making two different points. I mean, on the one hand, you're saying it's arbitrary. So I can understand where your argument that it's punitive and it's meant to send a message because it's - these are blanket denials. That's what you're seeing. On the other hand, you're saying it's arbitrary. So that suggests that perhaps there isn't coordination.

VIEUX: No, I wouldn't use the word arbitrary. I would say that because of the five ICE field offices taking measures that essentially deny all in their jurisdiction, we are led to believe that this is a policy, that this is something far broader - not arbitrary but perhaps even coordinated.

MARTIN: That's Hardy Vieux. He's director of Human Rights First. He was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Hardy, thank you so much for speaking with us.

VIEUX: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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