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US judge blocks ICE's 'arbitrary detention' of asylum seekers

US federal judge issues preliminary injunction ordering ICE to stop the 'arbitrary detention' of asylum seekers.

ICE's 'arbitrary detention'

A federal judge determined the US government is violating its own rules regarding the treatment of people seeking asylum.

Judge James Boasberg issued a preliminary injunction on Monday ordering the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to stop what opponents called the arbitrary detention of legitimate asylum seekers. The case in question continues, but the injunction opens up yet another legal front in the multi-directional battle being waged by the administration of President Donald Trump over immigration.

"This ruling means the Trump administration cannot use indefinite detention as a weapon to punish and deter asylum seekers," said Michael Tan, senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Immigrants' Rights Project.

The rights organisation added on Twitter that the ruling is a "rejection of the blanket policy of locking up those seeking protection in this country". 

All individuals seeking asylum must initially pass a "credible fear" screening to determine if they face a threat of persecution in their home countries. Those who fail that standard are deported immediately.

Previously, those who passed were usually given humanitarian parole while awaiting an immigration hearing, provided they were not considered flight risks or dangers to the public.

Under former President Barack Obama's administration, ICE granted humanitarian parole to more than 90 percent of asylum seekers.

Lawyers for the ACLU and other groups argued in May that since the start of Trump's administration, the number of people granted such parole has dropped to almost zero in five key ICE field offices: Detroit, Michigan; El Paso, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

According to the ACLU, more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been denied parole in these five districts alone. 

Those denied parole have instead been detained; in one case, a former ethics teacher from Haiti has spent more than 18 months in prison.

Judge Boasberg, in a 38-page memorandum opinion, concluded that "the numbers here are irrefutable," and ordered a case-by-case review of all asylum seekers awaiting parole. Meanwhile, the lawsuit will continue with a status hearing July 10.

"The denial letters that they were issuing were just boiler-plate - deny, deny, deny," said Hardy Vieux, legal director for Human Rights First. "This is the court saying, 'I've seen enough to tell [the government] to stop what you're doing and we'll talk later.'"

Anger mounts

The injunction comes as anger continues to mount on Trump over his "zero-tolerance" policy towards refugees and migrants. 

Last week, the administration was forced to temporarily scale back its practice of referring all individuals who cross the border between ports of entry.

This came after Trump issued an executive order stopping his administration's tactic of separating children from their parents at the border. Citing the executive order, Customs and Border Protection said it was temporarily halting the practice of handing most parents who arrive with their children over for prosecution.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice asked a California judge to modify a federal court ruling that said migrant and refugee children can only be kept in detention for up to 20 days.

The Trump administration insists its zero-tolerance policy is still in place.

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