In one I.C.E. district, parole approvals dropped from 75% in 2016 to less than 2% today.
Asylum-seekers kept behind bars in the Deep South are launching a class action lawsuit against the government.
The lawsuit, led by the Southern Poverty Law Center and American Civil Liberties Union, claims the Trump administration is categorically discriminating against asylum-seekers. According to The Los Angeles Times, detention in the Deep South carries its own set of problems—detention centers are often isolated, with scant access to lawyers and no opportunity for inmates to obtain parole.
In a statement published on its website, the SPLC claims that asylum-seekers have followed legal procedures to gain entry into the United States but are now being denied fundamental rights.
“Like hundreds of people being held in multiple ICE detention centers in the Deep South, our asylum-seeking plaintiffs are being punished for following the law,” said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Luz Virginia Lopez. “They followed the legal checklist by first presenting themselves at a point of entry, and this is how America is paying them back—with cruelty and disrespect for the law.”
Furthermore, the SPLC claims that parole approvals are hitting new lows under the direction of President Donald Trump. Last year—out of 130 asylum-seekers to petition for parole in one Immigration and Customs Enforcement district—only two individuals won conditional release.
Parole statistics in ICE’s New Orleans field district are particularly bad. In 2016, 75% of parole requests were approved—in 2018, that figure had plummeted to 1.5%.
Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Laura Rivera said ICE’s decision to ship detainees South likely isn’t without motive.
“When ICE makes strategic decisions about where to ship hundreds of asylum seekers, it has to know the Louisiana field office is not granting relief on parole to anybody,” Rivera said.
Rivera also echoed contemporary wisdom on incarceration, arguing that keeping people behind bars does little good for anyone.
“Across this nation, there is consensus building that incarceration does much more harm than good to our communities,” she said. “Yet, as criminal justice reform leads to lower rates of incarceration, this administration is filling jails and prisons with record numbers of migrants—more than 53,000 at last count. It’s causing untold human suffering, and it’s violating the law.”
River and the SPLC’s complaint notes that, along with potentially breaking the law, refusing parole to asylum-seekers costs American taxpayers a lot of money.
“ICE’s refusal to consider the release of these asylum-seekers on a case-by-case basis violates federal law, costs taxpayers millions of dollars each month, and causes untold suffering to the men and women who seek legal protection inside the United States,” the lawsuit states.
The L.A. Times notes that Rivera and the SPLC filed suit on behalf of detainees across a swath of states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Some migrants party to the suit have put forward claims of immense suffering. One Cuban dissident, whose name is simply abbreviated ‘Y.A.L.,’ was repeatedly denied parole even though his wife lives in Miami and is a legal, permanent U.S. resident.
Y.A.L., notes the Times, has gout.
Denied proper treatment and a ‘medically suitable diet’ down south, Y.A.L.’s condition progressed to the point that he lost the ability to walk, bathe or use the toilet without assistance.
Other class members include Adrian Toledo Flores, a Cuban pharmacy technician who fled the country—Toledo-Flores, says the L.A. Times, was beaten by government agents after refusing to withhold prescription medication from a client.
And 18-year old M.R.M.H—who fled Honduras after being brutalized by MS-13 gang members—isn’t able to access a diet that accounts for extreme allergies. Consequently, eating in ICE facilities has made the teenager break out in hives and struggle breathing.
One physician even noted that M.R.M.H. is at “extremely high risk of dying in ICE custody from a preventable condition.”
While ICE has stressed that its ‘commitment’ to detainees’ health, the ACLU says its suing to stop the sorts of abuses recounted by those fleeing dictatorship and gang violence.
“Here in Louisiana, thousands of immigrants and asylum-seekers are now being exposed to brutal and inhumane conditions in our jails and prisons—with virtually no hope of release,” said Bruce Hamilton, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana. “We’re suing to stop these abuses and hold the Trump administration accountable for following the law.”
Meanwhile, the SPLC has continued to charge the administration with shuffling migrants to jurisdictions where it’s practically impossible for them to garner relief.
“There’s no rhyme and reason to why they’re being brought to Mississippi from the border,” Rivera said, “other than that beds are available, the price is right, and it’s in a hostile jurisdiction.”