For Immediate Release: May 15, 2003
Future of Detained Asylum Seekers Still Unclear
NEW YORK – “Operation Liberty Shield,” including its provision regarding the detention of asylum seekers, has been officially “terminated” by the Department of Homeland Security. It is not clear however whether the Department is taking steps to release any asylum seekers detained under the policy who meet the relevant parole criteria.
“We are relieved to see the end of this program, which was an affront to the very idea of liberty,” said Eleanor Acer, the Director of the Asylum Program at Human Rights First. “But the practical result of this action is unclear. We are concerned about those legitimately seeking asylum in the U.S. who are subject to mandatory detention and are now almost routinely denied parole.”
Operation Liberty Shield was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on March 17, 2003, on the eve of the war with Iraq. One of its provisions required that asylum seekers arriving from an undisclosed list of nations and territories be detained for the duration of their asylum proceedings without the possibility of an individualized review of the need for their detention.
Under the policy, even asylum seekers who did not raise any suspicions of security or flight risks were slated to be confined in jails and detention centers for the duration of their asylum proceedings (estimated by the Department to be six months or significantly longer if the case was appealed). The policy was also intended to deprive them of a meaningful opportunity to request release through parole. Targeted asylum seekers were believed to be those arriving from 33 countries and 2 territories, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen, as well as Gaza and the West Bank.
The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that these asylum seekers would be denied the opportunity to request release from lengthy incarceration was met with concern and protest from many legal assistance, advocacy, and faith-based organizations that work with refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also publicly criticized the policy.
According to information posted on the Department of Homeland Security’s website during the last week, Secretary Tom Ridge and Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson of the Department of Homeland Security have both confirmed that “Operation Liberty Shield” officially ended on April 17, 2003. Secretary Ridge stated during a speech delivered to the National Press Club on April 29, 2003, that “Operation Liberty Shield, launched March 17th, terminated on April 17th.” Under Secretary Hutchinson also confirmed that “Operation Liberty Shield, launched March 17th, was terminated on April 17th” while addressing the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America on May 7, 2003. Information concerning the termination of this policy was not publicly posted on the Department of Homeland Security’s website until last week.
While Operation Liberty Shield has been officially terminated, arriving asylum seekers from the designated countries and territories continue to be subject to mandatory detention upon their arrival in the US under a 1996 expedited removal law. Though asylum seekers from these countries are now technically eligible to apply for parole, it is not clear how many will actually be released. Parole determinations in the US appear to have become increasingly restrictive and delays in routine security checks prolong detention for asylum seekers, including many who are ultimately granted asylum.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Attorney General’s sweeping declaration on April 17, 2003, Haitian men, women and children will be detained in jails or other facilities for months or years without being given a meaningful chance to demonstrate that their detention is unnecessary.