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May 15, 2003

Asylum News 15

Operation Liberty Shield Quietly Terminated Future of Detained Asylum Seekers Still Unclear

"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. Operation Liberty Shield and Asylum Seekers As Human Rights First detailed in a previous edition of Asylum Protection News, Operation Liberty Shield was announced by the Department of Homeland Security on March 17, 2003, the eve of the war with Iraq. One provision of Operation Liberty Shield 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. Although the initial announcement was unclear, the Department of Homeland Security later clarified that the policy would not apply to so-called “affirmative” asylum applicants who were already admitted to the US, but instead to “arriving” asylum seekers who were subject to the expedited removal process. 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) and deprived 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. For more information, please see our prior newsletter. Detention Policy Comes Under Fire In response to the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that these asylum seekers would be denied the opportunity to request release from lengthy incarceration, many legal assistance, advocacy, and faith-based organizations that work with refugees wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security or issued public statements expressing their concern. These groups included: Amnesty International USA, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Human Rights Watch, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the US Committee for Refugees, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also publicly criticized the policy citing its letter to the US Government in which the High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, stated: “Detention of asylum seekers should be the exception, not the rule, and should be based on an individualized assessment of the security risk the person poses.” Newspapers and other media covered the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement and the concerns of refugee advocates. In addition, over 430 individuals wrote to Tom Ridge, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, through the action component on Human Rights First’s website to express their concern about the extended detention of asylum seekers of the targeted nationalities under Operation Liberty Shield. Our thanks go to all who took the time to write in to express their concerns. Policy is Terminated Quietly 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. If you are currently representing an asylum seeker from a country or territory that fell under Operation Liberty Shield, and your client is still being detained, you should consider renewing your request for parole of your client (if your client meets the parole criteria and wishes to seek parole). If your local Department of Homeland Security officials have told you, or in the future tell you, that your client cannot be released because of Operation Liberty Shield, you may wish to cite the above statements by the Secretary and Undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Please contact Archi Pyati at Human Rights First Asylum Program if you are told that your client will continue to be detained. Continued Detention of Asylum Seekers 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 the 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. For background information on detention of asylum seekers, please refer to these Human Rights First reports:"Refugees Behind Bars" and "Refugee Women at Risk". 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. To learn more about this situation, and to express your concern for the discriminatory treatment of Haitian asylum seekers, please read our April 28 newsletter and take action. Asylum Action Opportunities: Urge President Bush to Stop Indefinite Detentions of Haitian Asylum Seekers! Urge Ridge and Ashcroft to Preserve Asylum for Victims of Gender-based Persecution! More information on Asylum in the U.S. Please forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. If you are not subscribed, and would like to continue receiving Asylum Protection News, sign up here