The Trump administration has now yet again faced a block to their immigration agenda in court. This past week, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must provide bond hearings to detained asylum seekers within seven days of their requests for judicial review. If the hearings aren’t provided, Pechman’s ruling demands the asylum seekers be released.
Although DHS has denied the allegations of inappropriate detention, there have been widespread accounts of the agency detaining asylum seekers for weeks and months on end, sometimes without granting access to judicial review. Just recently at Louisiana’s River Correctional Facility — a private prison DHS has contracted to house asylum seekers — some two dozen immigrants went on a prolonged hunger strike over allegedly being unable to convince judicial authorities to grant them bond.
At the time, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice’s Rachel Taber offered:
‘It’s a charade of due process. Their perception is that this will not be a real justice or a real court process.’
Pechman’s ruling is meant to address that problem, at least in part. Besides mandating bond hearings be granted in the first place, her ruling includes a demand for DHS to bear the burden of proof that certain asylum seekers pose some danger that warrants them remaining in detention.
She denounced the “no-win scenario” that the government has placed asylum seekers in, wherein they must choose to either “accept their indeterminate detention and receive bond hearings at the Government’s pleasure with a reversed and inequitable burden of proof” or “allow themselves to be deported back to a homeland where they have already been found to have a credible fear of injury or death.”
The issue could be primed for a fight in higher-level courts. Just on Friday, the very same day that Pechman delivered her ruling, President Donald Trump asserted during a tour of the border that asylum seekers should be told “Sorry, we’re full.” In recent days, he’s revived his assertion that the U.S. asylum system should go so far in the direction opposite Pechman’s ruling that immigration judges are thrown out altogether. He raised the complaint last year, but again recently while sitting next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg asserted that to fix the American immigration system we must “get rid of judges.”
The judicial system doesn’t seem to agree with his platform. Repeatedly, his administration’s plans for asylum seekers have been overturned in court. They’ve been rebuffed when trying to deny asylum to immigrants who cross outside designated ports of entry, and their attempt has been overruled to erase gang and domestic violence from the drivers of the “credible fear” that’s mandatory for an asylum claim.
Still, Trump is keeping at it. Although he’s walked back his threat to completely close the southern U.S. border this past week, he’s continuing to press for dramatic steps against immigrants including the construction of a southern border wall that’s really ended up being little more than glorified fence repair begun under the Obama administration. Now, the Trump team is also trying to have at least some asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their claims to be processed.
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