PHOENIX -- Detained asylum seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country will no longer be able to ask a judge to grant them bond.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr decided Tuesday that asylum seekers who clear a "credible fear" interview and are facing removal don't have the right to be released on bond by an immigration court judge while their cases are pending. The attorney general has the authority to overturn previous rulings made by immigration courts, which fall under the Justice Department.
It's Barr's first immigration-related decision since taking office.
For more than a decade, migrants who are deemed to have a "credible fear" of persecution in their home countries have been allowed to request bond hearings so they can be released while they wait for their asylum case to be heard, sometimes months or years later.
A federal judge in Washington this month affirmed the rights of individuals with a bona fide claim for asylum, saying they must be given the opportunity to seek bail within seven days of their request.
But Barr's order came in a case involving an Indian man who crossed into the United States from Mexico and claimed asylum. Barr said that migrants in similar cases do not have the right to bail.
Such a migrant, "after establishing a credible fear of persecution or torture is ineligible for release on bond," Barr wrote in his order, which overrules a previous Board of Immigration Appeals case from 2005.
A migrant seeking asylum could still ask the Department of Homeland Security to be released under a grant of parole, but that is entirely at the discretion of the department, which under Trump has sharply cut back on parole.
Barr's decision does not affect migrants applying for asylum at one of the two dozen ports of entry along the border with Mexico. It affects people who are apprehended after they cross into the United States illegally.
The decision doesn't affect asylum-seeking families because they generally can't be held for longer than 20 days. It also doesn't apply to unaccompanied minors.
Barr's ruling takes effect in 90 days and comes as the number of border crossers has skyrocketed. Most of them are families from Central America who are fleeing violence and poverty. Many seek asylum.
There were a total of 161,000 asylum applications filed in the last fiscal year and 46,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to open two new tent facilities to temporarily detain up to 1,000 parents and children near the southern border, as advocates sharply criticize the conditions inside the tents already used to hold migrants.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a notice to potential contractors that it wants to house 500 people in each camp in El Paso, Texas, and in the South Texas city of Donna, which has a border crossing with Mexico.
Each facility would consist of one large tent that could be divided into sections by gender and between families and children traveling alone, according to the notice. Detainees would sleep on mats. There would also be laundry facilities, showers, and an "additional fenced-in area" for "outside exercise/recreation."
The notice says the facilities could open in the next two weeks and operate through year end, with a cost that could reach $37 million.
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to several requests for comment.
But the agency has said its resources are strained by the sharp rise in the numbers of parents and children crossing the border and requesting asylum. It made 53,000 apprehensions in March of parents and children traveling together, most of whom say they are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. Many ultimately request asylum under U.S. and international law.
The Border Patrol has started directly releasing parents and children instead of referring them to immigration authorities for potential long-term detention, but families still sometimes wait several days to be processed by the agency and released.
In El Paso, hundreds of people are detained in tents set up at the center of a parking lot next to a patrol station. People detained there have complained of prolonged exposure to cold. The Border Patrol limits them to one warm layer of clothing, confiscates coats, and issues a Mylar blanket to each detainee, citing health and safety concerns.
Land near the bridge in Donna was used last year as a camp by active-duty soldiers when they were ordered to South Texas' Rio Grande Valley.The Border Patrol also established a tent facility at Donna to hold migrants in December 2016, in the last weeks of the administration of former President Barack Obama, in response to a previous surge of migrants from Central America.
Separately, a federal advisory group is calling for significant changes to how the federal government deals with the recent surge of migrant families.
In a draft report unveiled Tuesday, a committee of the Homeland Security Advisory Council called on the Trump administration to immediately establish three to four regional migrant processing centers along the southwest border with Mexico.
The bipartisan group also endorsed changes to an agreement that generally bars the government from keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days.
"There is a real crisis at our border," say the authors, who include immigration experts, lawyers, former federal officials and a medical doctor. "An unprecedented surge in family unit migration from Central America is overwhelming our border agencies and our immigration system. This crisis is endangering children."
The report calls for the establishment of new centers where migrant families would be processed by immigration officials, receive medical care and have their asylum cases heard by immigration judges. And they want to see a similar processing center established in Guatemala, near that country's border with Mexico, so migrants can make asylum claims without having to make the dangerous trek to the U.S.
The report also calls for changes to a court settlement that would allow authorities to hold minor children who enter the country with guardians for longer than 20 days and changes that would allow border agents to take photographs and collect the biometric data of children under 14 "in order to stem the recycling of children at the border and to rapidly determine the legitimacy of parentage claims," among other measures.
It is unclear whether the Trump administration will consider any of the changes it is not already pushing Congress to undertake. The administration supports asylum changes and other steps to slow the influx of migrants at the border as Trump tries to make good on his 2016 campaign promises.
But Katharina Obser of the Women's Refugee Commission said many of the ideas in the report would only exacerbate the problem.
"It is long overdue for the government to invest its existing funds in a comprehensive, legal and humane approach to protection at our borders," she said, but many of the report's recommendations "would do little to better care for vulnerable families and children seeking protection in the United States."
Information for this article was contributed by Nomaan Merchant, Cedar Attanasio and Jill Colvin and staff members of The Associated Press; and by Michael D. Shear and Katie Benner of The New York Times.
A Section on 04/17/2019
Print Headline: AG rules asylum seekers can't be released on bond