The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its policy of denying bond hearings to asylum seekers who have proven that they face credible fear in their countries of origin.
Currently, many asylum seekers are granted the right to a bond hearing, during which time it is decided whether they will be detained or released while their asylum case is ongoing. Attorney General William Barr, who announced the new policy last month, seeks to change that.
When the policy goes into effect this summer, anyone arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border without documents can be deported through expedited removal proceedings or detained indefinitely while their cases are considered in immigration courts, a process that could take several years.
Barr’s ruling does not apply to unaccompanied minors or families, groups that make up the majority of migrants entering the United States, thanks to the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which prohibits minors from being detained longer than 20 days.
The ACLU is joined by the American Immigration Council and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in its suit against Trump.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in Seattle district court, Michael Tan, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said, “This policy unconstitutionally strips people of their right to a hearing. Hearings are a critical part of due process and prevent unlawful detention. The administration cannot bypass the Constitution by arbitrarily locking people up.”
“[President Donald] Trump’s true motives are clear — to deter asylum seekers and punish people who apply for protection under our laws,” Tan added.
The legal challenge accuses the administration of violating Fifth Amendment rights to due process by denying migrants of their right to a timely bond hearing and by delaying credible fear interviews; violating the Immigration and Nationality Act by failing to provide individualized custodial and individualized parole hearings; and violating the Administrative Procedure Act by delaying credible fear interviews and bond hearings, and denying procedural protections.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, Barr’s decision is a worrisome sign that attorneys general are seeking to do Trump’s bidding through their control of immigration courts. In the two years since Trump took office, the president’s attorneys general have referred 10 cases to themselves to decide, a stark contrast to the nine cases under George W. Bush’s entire administration and the four during Barack Obama’s tenure.
The ruling is also the latest in a series of sweeping changes to the immigration system since multiple officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resigned, including former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Since then, DHS has said it will charge asylum seekers fees to obtain work authorizations, limit asylum seekers’ access to work permits, and implement a pilot DNA testing program at the southern border to identify people who may be lying about being part of a family.
DHS is also considering expanding the “expedited removal” deportation policy, which could impact more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants.