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April 10, 2017

Parole Denials Lead to Increased Detention Under Trump’s Executive Order  

President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, in both iterations, has received widespread attention. Meanwhile, aside from its call for a border wall, his January 25 executive order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements has received relatively little scrutiny.

That order, which calls for the increased use of immigration detention, is having a devastating impact on refugees seeking asylum in this country.  

In the wake of February 20 memorandum implementing the order, nonprofit attorneys in various locations have told us that eligible asylum seekers are being denied parole even when they meet the criteria: pass a screening interview, establish identity, and present no flight risk or danger to the community.

Last week, the international organization Reporters Without Borders issued a statement about a persecuted journalist from Mexico detained in a U.S. immigration detention facility since he requested asylum in February. The journalist—whose parole application was supported by his U.S. citizen cousin who resides in California as well as Reporters without Borders, which has documented his persecution and that of other journalists in Mexico—was denied in March by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in El Paso. Despite his strong U.S. ties, ICE inexplicably checked a box claiming that he was a “flight risk” and had failed to establish “substantial ties to the community.” 

Over the past several weeks, my colleagues and I have conducted research on access to asylum in southern California and Mexico. We spoke to attorneys and experts non-profit legal organizations who told us that they had not seen any asylum seekers released on parole in recent months. In one case, ICE in southern California denied parole to a grandmother from Honduras, claiming she was a "flight risk,” even though her parole application was supported by two U.S. citizen family members. ICE officers reportedly told her non-profit attorney that they were not releasing anyone on parole now. 

Through Human Rights First's pro bono legal representation of asylum seekers held in immigration detention facilities in New Jersey, our attorneys recently learned that release from detention—already rare, as we documented in a report last year—is now on hold in the wake of the executive order. Attorneys at nonprofit organizations in New York have also reported that immigration officers stopped issuing parole grant to asylum seekers held in immigration detention in New York immediately following the order.

Detaining asylum seekers without court review violates U.S. human rights and refugee protection commitments. Given the high cost of detention, it’s also an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars. Much less costly alternative-to-detention programs have proven successful at securing immigrants’ appearance at hearings and appointments.  

Courts have, at least for the time being, blocked the “Muslim ban,” but other threats to the rights of refugees and immigrants are emerging, courtesy of the Trump administration. Here’s hoping they get more attention—and pushback from Congress.