Judge orders Trump admin to consider releasing asylum seekers

A federal judge on Monday became the latest to rebuke the Trump administration for its immigration practices — this time ordering the administration not to deny asylum seekers potential release from detention.

The lawsuit predates the administration’s now-reversed practice of separating families at the border, but the national outcry over the policy that resulted in thousands of families being separated was not lost on the judge deciding this case.

“As the events of recent months make clear, the question of how this nation will treat those who come to our shores seeking refuge generates enormous debate,” US District Judge James Boasberg wrote in the opening line of his 38-page opinion.

At issue in the case is the detention of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum in the US. Once they pass their initial screening, the government is supposed to make an individual decision about whether that immigrant should be released or detained, according to existing government policy.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of asylum seekers who said they passed the requisite threshold interview, but alleged that rather than conducting such individualized assessments, the Trump administration has been “unlawfully denying parole to virtually all asylum seekers based on deterrence at the five (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Field Offices.”

Boasberg ordered the administration to follow the policy on the books — meaning each asylum seeker must be evaluated for being a flight risk or a danger to the community when deciding if they are to be released pending their full immigration court hearing on their claim.

“This Opinion does no more than hold the Government accountable to its own policy, which recently has been honored more in the breach than the observance,” Boasberg wrote.

The Trump administration has long decried what it calls “catch-and-release” — the release of immigrants from detention as they await court hearings that can be months or years in the future. Officials have repeatedly sought to detain far more immigrants for far longer, including the recent effort to convince a judge to roll back restrictions on how long families with children can be detained.

But the Trump administration has been handed numerous setbacks in the lower court to implementing its aggressive immigration agenda.

Boasberg noted that the asylum seekers pointed to parole rates for similarly situated immigrants plummeted from more than 90% to nearly zero.

“(The government) cannot claim that the ICE Directive remains fully in effect, and yet, at the same time, provide no explanation for the sudden shift in the day-to-day treatment of asylum seekers under the current administration,” Boasberg wrote.

He also noted that his ruling was not radical, merely instructing the government to follow its own procedures. The Trump administration has railed on judges who have issued orders that had nationwide effect, as numerous judges have curtailed its efforts on immigration policy.

“To mandate that ICE provide these baseline procedures to those entering our country — individuals who have often fled violence and persecution to seek safety on our shores — is no great judicial leap,” he wrote. “Rather, the issuance of injunctive relief in this case serves only to hold Defendants accountable to their own governing policies and to ensure that Plaintiffs receive the protections they are due under the Parole Directive.”