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Congressman Lloyd Doggett

Representing the 35th District of Texas

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Austin American-Statesmen: Lloyd Doggett, Texas lawyers question ICE handling of asylum-seekers

July 6, 2018

Two Texas lawyers have accused U.S. immigration officials of denying bond to some asylum-eligible immigrants, keeping them locked up and prolonging family separations in violation of a federal court order.

At least seven asylum-seekers being held in Texas have been denied bond despite showing that they had a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country, the lawyers said, adding that immigrants who pass a “credible fear interview” as part of the asylum process are typically eligible for release while their case proceeds.

In a setback for the Trump administration, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg of Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that immigration officials cannot arbitrarily detain asylum-seekers who proved they had a credible fear of harm if returned home.

In a letter to the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, requested confirmation that the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor — where two women were reportedly denied bond last week — is complying with Boasberg’s ruling.

“It appears that ICE … has a new policy that deliberately prolongs the pain and anguish of mothers separated from their children,” Doggett’s letter said. “Having made a credible case of fear regarding the home which they fled, legitimate asylum-seekers should not be wrongfully kept from their children and in fear here in America.”

According to Doggett’s letter, at least 35 mothers are being held in the Taylor detention center “whose children were seized from them and who still remain separated. Apparently, a number of these women have already passed their preliminary credible fear interviews.”

Doggett also asked if there were any directives, formal or informal, to deny bond to asylum-seekers who have passed their interviews or to deny bond to parents whose children are in federal custody.

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke said the agency has not changed its policy for releasing asylum-seekers on bond.

“ICE makes custody decisions on a case-by-case basis, weighing several factors, including immigration history and criminal history. Arriving aliens who have passed the credible fear threshold would have to complete a custody redetermination hearing with an immigration judge before being considered for bond,” Bourke said in a written statement.

Austin immigration lawyer Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch said she is representing two mothers at the Taylor detention center who were recently denied bond despite passing their credible fear interviews, including one who would have been reunited with her child upon release. The Office of Refugee Resettlement had recently released the child to a family member.

Another lawyer, Jodi Goodwin of Harlingen, said five immigrants — four mothers and one father — were denied bond at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in the Rio Grande Valley despite passing their credible fear interviews.

ICE officers previously told detained parents at Port Isabel that they would be reunited with their children if they passed the interview, Goodwin told the American-Statesman.

“Each one of those (parents) had been served with their positive credible fear finding, and at the same time they were served with a custody determination of no bond,” said Goodwin, calling the move unusual. “They normally put some bond. Even if it’s a high bond, they normally put something.”

Almost 3,000 children have been separated from their parents due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings. President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting the family separations on June 20 after a widespread backlash.

Immigrants who were denied release can appeal the ruling during a bond redetermination hearing in front of an immigration judge. Even so, Goodwin said, that hearing can take up to 10 days to schedule, prolonging parents’ detention and separation from their children.

“It’s just another step, another delay. It’s longer until people can get released so that they can get reunified with their kids,” Goodwin said. “It’s tiring, and it’s absurd, and it’s a ridiculous waste of resources on the side of the government.”

The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will begin reuniting immigrant families beginning Tuesday with children under 5 years old. The Department of Health and Human Services will use DNA testing to confirm family relationships.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar told reporters that entire families may remain in custody, including those claiming asylum, after reunification.