Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Issues New Asylum Policy; More Likely that Victims of Persecution will Remain in Jail

Posted on Wed, Nov 14, 2007 at 9:42 am

HIAS calls on DHS to reverse course

Washington - HIAS – the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – calls on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to rescind its new policy that makes it more difficult for non-criminal asylum seekers to be released from the jails and jail-like facilities used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The new policy will not only increase detention costs to taxpayers, but will also further traumatize those who fled persecution in their homelands to seek asylum and freedom in the United States.

“While we endorse the need for careful controls to ensure public safety and national security, HIAS believes that DHS should be willing to consider parole for those asylum seekers who are known, have community ties, and aren’t a danger to society,” says Gideon Aronoff, HIAS president and CEO.

In a policy directive dated November 6, 2007, Assistant Secretary Julie Myers of ICE – the enforcement arm of DHS – establishes additional barriers for detained asylum applicants seeking to be released from detention while awaiting a decision on their asylum application. The new policy, which purportedly seeks to ensure transparency and consistency in ICE decisions on the parole requests of asylum seekers, contradicts HIAS’ longstanding position on this issue.

The new policy also subverts recommendations made by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on asylum seekers in expedited removal. The February 2005 study found that DHS routinely detained asylum seekers under inappropriate conditions and was wildly inconsistent in applying its policy of favoring release for those who establish identity and pose neither a flight nor security risk. The Commission adopted a recommendation long urged by HIAS: that ICE more consistently apply its policy favoring the release of asylum seekers who meet those criteria.

In the new directive, ICE continues to require that asylum seekers meet the existing criteria, but now most asylum seekers who meet those requirements will only be released in the event of pregnancy, serious health issues, or if they are juveniles. Release of other applicants who meet the criteria shall be done only on an exceptional basis, when the ICE authorities document and provide a “well-reasoned justification” that their release would be “in the public interest.”

“This new directive shows that ICE is at least aware of the Commission’s recommendations,” said Aronoff. “But the Commission recommended that ICE codify existing parole criteria to make it less likely that legitimate asylum seekers who don’t pose a flight risk are detained. Instead, ICE has developed new and harsher criteria that make it more likely that victims of persecution will continue to be detained for even longer periods.”

Jewish history and the Jewish community are committed to welcoming the stranger and rescuing refugees. This tradition, combined with the fundamental Jewish principle of Piddyon Shevuyim (redemption of the captive) compels HIAS to speak out against this incredible injustice. “When legitimate asylum seekers—people fleeing bloody, horrible conditions in their home countries—arrive in the United States they are shell-shocked from their life experiences,” says Aronoff. “Yet when they reach our shores, they are treated like criminals. This is unacceptable. We have an obligation to treat asylum seekers with dignity, fairness, and respect as they seek refuge in our country.”