NEW YORK / SAN FRANCISCO, April 16 (Reuters) – The US state prosecutor on Tuesday suspended a decision that allowed some asylum seekers to seek a bailout before an immigration judge, with a decision extending indefinite detention for some migrants who have to wait months or years to hear their cases.
The first immigration court of President Donald Trump's newly appointed public prosecutor, William Bar, is in line with the administration's moves to avert the asylum process, with tens of thousands of mostly Central Americans crossing into the US seeking shelter. US immigration courts oversee the Justice Department, and the Attorney General can make a decision in cases where a legal precedent is set up.
Bar's decision is the last instance of the Trump administration that takes a firm line for immigration. This year, the administration has implemented a policy to return some asylum seekers to Mexico, while their cases work on the road through backlogs, a policy challenged with a lawsuit.
Several senior Homeland Security officials were expelled this month due to Trump's frustration with an influx of migrants looking for shelter at the southern border of the United States.
The Barr decision refers to migrants who have illegally crossed into the United States.
Usually, these migrants are in "quick-wipe" procedures – a faster form of deportation reserved for people who have illegally entered the country in the last two weeks and are detained at a distance of 160 km from the land border. Migrants who present themselves in ports of entry and seek asylum are not eligible for bonds.
But before Bar's verdict, those who crossed the border between official entry points and sought asylum were eligible for bonds, after proving themselves to the asylum officials they had a credible fear of persecution.
"I conclude that such foreigners remain ineligible for the connection, whether they come to the border or are arrested in the United States," Barr wrote.
Bar says such people can be held in immigration custody until their cases have ended, or if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to release them by giving them a suspended sentence. DHS has the discretion to condition individuals who are not eligible for bonds and often do so due to insufficient custody or for other humanitarian reasons.
William Bar over the years
Bar said it delayed the effective date in 90 days, "so DHS can carry out the necessary operational planning for additional solutions to detention and pardon."
The full impact of the decision is not yet clear, as it will largely depend on DHS's ability to extend detention, said Steve Vladek, a law professor at the University of Texas.
"The number of asylum seekers who will remain in a potentially unrestricted detention pending the removal of their cases will almost certainly be a matter of the capacity for detention of DHS, and not whether the individual circumstances of individual cases require release or detention," Vladek .
DHS officials did not immediately respond to the request for comment on the decision. The agency has written in short in the case arguing that the elimination of hearings for asylum seekers will have "a direct and significant impact on … detention operations".
In early March, illegal migration and customs (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for the illegal detention and deportation of immigrants to the country, said the average daily immigrant population in custody exceeded 46,000 for the fiscal year 2019, the highest level of the agency created in 2003 year. Last year, Reuters reported that the ICE modified toolmakers used since 2013, when deciding whether the migrant should be arrested or released on the bond, making the process more restrictive.
The decision will have no effect on unaccompanied children who are free of expedited removal. Most families are also empowered due to lack of facilities to maintain parents and children together.
Michael Tan, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the rights group intends to sue the Trump administration in connection with the decision, and immigrant representatives condemned the decision.
Bar's decision emerged after former Attorney General Jeff Session decided to review the case in October. The sessions resigned from their position in November, leaving Bar to decide.
(Report by Mika Rosenberg in New York and Christina Cook in San Francisco, Additional Report by Jegan Thorbathy in Washington, Editing by Lisa Schumacher)