Trump administration directs judges to deny bond hearings for asylum seekers in latest border crackdown

Kristine Phillips

WASHINGTON – Migrants who say they face persecution or torture if they return to their countries could be jailed indefinitely in the USA under the Trump administration's latest effort to stem the surge of asylum seekers arriving at the border. 

Attorney General William Barr, who oversees immigration courts, directed judges Tuesday to deny bond hearings for asylum seekers, which would keep migrants in detention while they wait for months, even years, for their claims to be heard. The decision, a departure from a years-long practice of allowing asylum seekers who  show credible fear of persecution to seek bail, will be challenged in court.

Barr delayed the effective date of his ruling by 90 days, acknowledging that it will have "an immediate and significant impact" on overcrowded detention centers. The Department of Homeland Security requested the delay, so the agency "may conduct necessary operational planning," Barr wrote in a footnote at the end of his 11-page ruling.

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Civil rights organizations promptly vowed to sue, saying the decision would result in unlawful and unnecessary detention of thousands of asylum seekers with valid claims.

"Barr's decision is the latest in the Trump administration's ongoing attack on individuals fleeing persecution and torture in their countries of origin," Trina Realmuto, attorney for the American Immigration Council, said in a statement. "Rather than comply with a recent district court order requiring prompt and fair bond hearings for asylum seekers before an immigration judge, the administration has elected instead to lock them up indefinitely."

Realmuto referred to a decision by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle, who ordered immigration courts to hold bond hearings for asylum seekers within seven days of a request.

Federal courts have blocked many of the Trump administration's hard-line policies meant to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the USA. 

In San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg blocked the administration's policy of requiring Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases were decided in the USA. A federal appeals judge temporarily stopped that ruling from taking effect, keeping the administration's policy in place.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the Trump administration overstepped its authority when it barred migrants from qualifying for asylum based on fears of domestic abuse or gang violence.

President Donald Trump has railed against the surge of migrants coming to the USA. 

"You have people coming up. You know they're all met by the lawyers ... and they say, 'Say the following phrase: 'I am very afraid for my life. I am afraid for my life.' ... It's a big fat con job, folks. It's a big fat con job," Trump said at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in March. 

The president promised to end "catch and release," a policy that requires the government to release migrant families and children from Central America into the USA while they wait for the outcome of their immigration or asylum cases. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the policy encouraged more migrants to come.

Last month, Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 92,000 immigrants trying to cross the border, the highest tally in 12 years. The majority of these involved migrants seeking asylum.

Barr's decision reverses an immigration judge's decision in 2005 that involved an Indian citizen who traveled to Mexico and crossed illegally into the USA to seek asylum. The Immigration and Nationality Act says migrants with credible asylum claims "shall be detained for further consideration of the application for asylum," Barr wrote. 

Contributing: Alan Gomez, Aaron Montes and Rick Jervis.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump administration directs judges to deny bond hearings for asylum seekers in latest border crackdown