The Trump administration’s attempt to skirt the United States legal system with their immigration policies can’t last forever. This week, yet another federal judge handed down a harsh rebuke of their strategies, demanding that an asylum seeker from Africa be granted a bail hearing within two weeks. That asylum seeker — Ivory Coast’s Adou Kouadio — has been in U.S. custody for what’s approaching three years.
Kouadio arrived at the United States’ southern border in early 2016, claiming the credible fear of violence that’s necessary to be granted asylum in the country. He worked for his home nation’s most immediate past president Laurent Gbagbo and had faced death threats from successor Alassane Ouattara’s team.
This week, Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein asserted that no matter his origin, he has a constitutional right to due process.
As Hellerstein explained it:
‘This nation prides itself on its humanity and openness with which it treats those who seek refuge at its gates. By contrast, the autocracies of the world have been marked by harsh regimes of exclusion and detention. Our notions of due process nourish the former spirit and brace us against the latter… His right to liberty is as valuable to him as it is to any U.S. citizen, and he has a constitutional right to a bail hearing that should no longer be denied to him.’
The U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled that detained asylum seekers were not entitled to periodic bond hearings, but they did not rule on whether asylum seekers had a right to such hearings as a rule.
That’s where Hellerstein came in, insisting this week that the Constitution’s right to due process is not dependent on citizenship.
Kouadio’s lawyer Craig Relles insisted that the judge’s ruling is “sending a message to the Trump administration that fundamental due process is alive and well,” and some more independent legal experts agreed.
Former Department of Homeland Security adviser Lucas Guttentag insisted that Hellerstein established that “asylum applicants at our border are constitutionally entitled to due process and cannot be jailed for years without any hearing.”
Former chief counsel for Citizenship and Immigration Services Stephen Legomsky called the ruling “a clear rejection of the administration’s preference for long-term detention of asylum seekers.
The Trump administration has run afoul of Hellerstein’s guiding principle in other situations, like through their high profile temporary detainment of all asylum seekers and push for prosecution of the adults if they crossed the border outside a designated port of entry to the U.S. — and at times, no matter where they came in. That policy included the separation of immigrant children and families no matter whether or not there was a documented threat, but that push was eventually abandoned, and a federal judge ruled that the families be reunited — although that process proved haphazard and left some people hanging.
They’ve sought to reshape the asylum process through other means — and had those blocked in court as well. For instance, the Trump team tried to deny asylum to any and all undocumented immigrants and roll back what forms of violence could be considered a basis for “credible fear” — and judges overturned both of those efforts.
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