Attorney General Barr Unilaterally Reversed Decade-Old Law Impacting Asylum Seekers

Apr 17, 2019

With a stroke of a pen, Attorney General Barr unilaterally reversed 14 years of the law saying that asylum seekers who entered without inspection and passed an initial screening by an asylum officer (which is the majority of people) known as a credible fear interview, can ask an immigration judge for release from detention on bond.

In a case called Matter of M-S-, the Attorney General overruled an established rule and justified his decision by arguing that the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) allows for the release of asylum seekers only through parole. In his decision, the Attorney General says that because the INA statute does not expressly allow for bond for asylum seekers, the ruling from 14 year-ago is wrong.

The justification given for this decision is that release from detention is possible because asylum seekers can as easily apply for parole from ICE as they could apply for bond from an immigration judge. This is unfounded in reality. The approval rate for parole from ICE is very low and in some regions of our country non-existent. In fact, last year a federal court in a case called Damus et. al v. Nielsen, ordered five ICE offices across the nation to review parole decisions from asylum seekers because they had a policy of not issuing any paroles. 

 The Attorney General admits the consequential effects of the law that he has undone. In the decision, he identifies that ICE is unprepared for the massive increase in detention that will come as result of asylum seekers not being able to receive bond, and so delayed his decision to take effect for 90 days.  Detention levels are already at an all-time high, with more than 50,000 people detained around the country and this decision will only exacerbate these detention levels. 

So what does this mean for asylum seekers we serve in the region?

It means more detention and all the issues that come with being locked up in remote places where many asylum seekers, including those in the Capital region, are held. Detention results in a lack of access to attorneys, a lack of proper mental and medical care, separation from families, and susceptibility to increased mental health trauma in detention.

Unfortunately, we have seen the detrimental effects that detention can have on our clients who are seeking asylum. One such client who first arrived at the Texas border and was transferred to the Capital region, attempted to commit suicide while in detention because ICE denied his parole request. He has been sitting in detention for several months now and has no criminal convictions. Before seeking safety in the United States, the police in his country of origin attacked him for being part of a peaceful march. He was able to survive this horrible torture, but three months in US detention drove him to make an attempt on his life. 

We will see more asylum seekers detained as a result of this decision and now representation and pro se assistance may be the only way that these people can find peace and safety.  Please consider donating or becoming a volunteer with us as we work to support asylum seekers who are seeking safety from persecution and torture.