A number of asylum seekers being held by federal authorities in Batavia must be granted bail hearings and the chance to be released on parole while their asylum petitions are pending, a Western New York District Court has ruled.
In a legal proceeding brought by the attorneys for two asylum seekers who were held for a time at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, the plaintiffs argued that the facility was violating a directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to review parole applications.
The attorneys also said their clients were being denied their legal right to a bail hearing within six months of detention.
Both procedures, the plaintiffs contend, changed in January, after President Donald Trump took office.
United States District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford wrote the court's opinion that stated even though the ICE directive was an internal department document, it addressed specifically the rights of individuals and so, therefore, the detention facility was obligated to abide by the directive.
She also wrote that the asylum seekers retained their Constitutional rights, in accordance with prior court rulings, to a bail review hearing within six months.
Federal authorities argued that the asylum seekers should be considered as if they had been stopped at the border, and therefore not subject to Constitutional guarantees of due process, even though they were being held in Batavia, more than 3,000 miles from where they originally allowed into the country as asylum seekers.
Wolford noted "this decision does nothing to erode the Attorney General's discretionary authority to grant or deny parole. However, if Respondents follow the ICE Directive, individuals who are not likely to be a flight risk or a danger to the community will have been released on parole before six months has passed. Where an individual is detained for six months, Respondents should, under the ICE Directive, have a good reason for the continued detention and should, therefore, be able to readily meet the clear and convincing evidence of the standard of proof with respect to the denial of bond."
The primary plaintiffs in the case were Hanad Abdi and Johan Barrios Ramos.
Abdi is a 26-year-old native of Somalia. He and his family were members of a minority tribe. Members of a rival tribe killed his father and captured Abdi and beat him. He managed to escape and fled his home country in June 2016. He arrived at the U.S. southern border Oct. 12, 2016, seeking asylum. Officials who interviewed him found there were credible reasons to believe he would be at risk if returned to Somalia so he was transferred to Batavia. Once in Batavia, his repeated requests for parole were denied. He was only released in August after he commenced litigation.
Ramos is a 40-year-old citizen of Cuba where he was involved with political opposition to the current regime. He was imprisoned for 11 months for his political activities. He fled Cuba in December 2016 and arrived in Mexico by raft. He traveled to the U.S. border and requested asylum on Jan. 14, 2017. He passed what is called a "credible fear" review, a finding that granted him preliminary asylum seeker status. Once transferred to Batavia, his repeated requests for parole were denied until litigation began. He was released Sept. 14.
The legal claim by the plaintiffs also sought class-action status so that any ruling might also apply to other asylum seekers being held in Batavia without being granted bail and parole hearings. Court documents list at least 20 such individuals.
The Attorney General's Office argued that with their release, Adbi and Ramos no longer had standing to pursue their legal claims nor to act as stand-ins for the class of asylum seekers being denied a chance at release.
Wolford disagreed, noting that the Attorney General's office could withdraw parole from Adbi and Ramos at any time. In fact, Adbi's parole already has been revoked. ICE, however, has no intention "at this time" of taking Adbi into custody.
The phrase "at this time," Wolford noted, is further evidence of the arbitrary nature of the government's handling of these cases, as is the fact that Thomas Brophy, acting director of the Buffalo ICE Field Office, did not articulate a reason for revoking Adbi's parole. Wolford also wrote that the ability of the AG's office to release individuals who bring suit shouldn't be a tactic for avoiding a class action ruling dealing with all the asylum seekers' cases.