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April 05, 2004

Asylum News 26

Detention of Asylum Seekers - A Step Forward, a Step Back

DHS - ICE Issues Guidance Confirming that Asylum Seekers Who are Granted Asylum Should Generally Not be Detained; Also Announces Expansion of Detention in Atlanta and Denver Take Action! Write Ridge to Improve Detention Policies for Asylum Seekers! This newsletter updates you on three important developments relating to the detention of asylum seekers: First, just last week, the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced in a press release that it was expanding its use of immigration detention in Atlanta and Denver. As discussed below, this expansion is expected to affect asylum seekers in those areas. Second, on a positive note, ICE recently issued guidance confirming that people granted asylum or other protection relief by immigration judges should generally be released from detention when ICE appeals the judge's decision. This and other new guidance relating to those found deserving of protection under the Convention Against Torture, is discussed below. Third, we're asking you to mark your calendars, and help spread the word about, a Write Ridge day on April 19, the day after the final air date of the Court TV film, Chasing Freedom. DHS - ICE Expands Detention Pilot Project to Atlanta and Denver On March 26, ICE issued a news release announcing the expansion of a detention pilot project which it had launched last year in Hartford, Connecticut to Atlanta and Denver. As a result of this expansion, it is expected that individuals who are denied relief by immigration judges (including asylum seekers) will be subject to detention at their immigration court hearings. However, the scope and operation of this project is unclear from the news release: the ICE news release contains little information about the project, and may in fact give an inaccurate impression - the news release refers to the detention of individuals who have been "issued final orders of removal" even though individuals in Hartford were reportedly detained even when their deportation orders were not final and were being appealed. If this project operates like the Hartford project, it will lead not only to the detention of many individuals who are denied relief by an immigration judge (including those who are appealing the judge's denial), but also to the detention of a new category of asylum seekers in Atlanta and Denver. Previously asylum seekers who had voluntarily identified themselves to U.S. immigration authorities by applying for asylum have not been detained during the course of their immigration proceedings. Asylum seekers are sometimes incorrectly denied asylum by immigration judges. This is why the U.S. asylum system provides for appeal of immigration judge decisions to the Board of Immigration Appeals and to federal courts if necessary. Detaining asylum seekers who have voluntarily come forward to U.S. authorities is counterproductive. Not only does it discourage refugees from seeking protection, but it also penalizes asylum seekers for voluntarily identifying themselves to U.S. immigration authorities. The Executive Director of the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, Paul Stein, is concerned that this new project fails to make provision "for those who flee to the United States in order to escape the heinous crimes committed against them abroad" and will have a "chilling effect on the asylum process." The ICE news release makes absolutely no mention of any particular provision for asylum seekers - raising questions about the extent to which asylum issues are given adequate attention and consideration within ICE/DHS. DHS - ICE Guidance on Those Granted Relief In recent months, the press and human rights organizations have raised concern about the detention of asylum seekers and others who continue to be detained even though immigration judges have granted them asylum or other relief. The press has written about the six-month detention of a Tibetan nun ("Granted Asylum, Nun Held in Va. Jail," Washington Post, January 27, 2004), the four-year detention of two asylum seekers who were granted relief under the Convention Against Torture ("Out of Repression, Into Jail," New York Times, January 15, 2004), and last year about the detention of several Haitian asylum seekers ("Haitians are Held in U.S. Despite Grant of Asylum," New York Times, July 25, 2003). In its January 2004 report In Liberty's Shadow, Human Rights First addressed this issue and urged that DHS issue regulations making it clear that asylum seekers who are determined to be eligible for asylum or withholding of removal should generally be released from detention while an appeal is pending. Read the report online at: ICE has recently issued guidance confirming that individuals who are granted asylum or other protection relief (such as withholding of removal or relief under the Convention Against Torture) by immigration judges should generally be released from detention when ICE appeals the judge's decision. The guidance, contained in a memorandum from Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia of ICE, indicates that release from detention is not favored where there are "exceptional concerns such as national security issues or danger to the community." To see the memorandum, dated February 9, 2004 and publicly circulated in late March, click here. At about the same time, on February 12, 2004, ICE issued additional guidance clarifying that when immigration judges grant relief under the Convention Against Torture, ICE attorneys are not required to reserve appeal in all cases. To see the memorandum, click here. Please contact Archi Pyati at Human Rights First if you are representing an asylum seeker or other individual who continues to be detained in violation of this new guidance. You should also urge DHS to release your client consistent with the new policy. Mark Your Calendars: Write Ridge Day on April 19 to follow Chasing Freedom As we previously advised you, on Sunday, April 18 at 3pm, Court TV will air an encore showing of its original film, Chasing Freedom. The film tells the story of a young Afghan woman who flees the Taliban and the pro bono attorney (played by Juliette Lewis) who takes on her asylum case after the woman is detained when she arrives in the U.S. in search of refuge. The film was inspired by a real asylum case handled by a team of dedicated pro bono attorneys for Human Rights First. We are organizing a Write Ridge Day on Monday, April 19, the day after the film airs. We are asking for your help in encouraging others to see the film and in urging those who are concerned about U.S. detention of asylum seekers to write to Secretary Tom Ridge of the Department of Homeland Security on April 19 to urge him to make some changes to improve the treatment of asylums seekers detained in the United States. If you would like to help spread the word about this effort, please contact Carline Bennett at Human Rights First. And please, mark your calendars. We'll be sending you additional information about this effort soon. You can also make a difference by forwarding this message to your friends and colleagues and urging them to take action as well. Take Action! For more information on asylum in the U.S., visit our website: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/asylum/asylum.htm 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