ICE Is Illegally Imprisoning Asylum Seekers

Ansly Damus has been locked up for one year, four months, and counting. Held behind bars by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has not been outside for more than a year. His crime? In October 2016, Damus fled violent, political persecution in Haiti. When he arrived in the U.S., he presented himself to immigration authorities and applied for asylum. He passed his “credible fear” interview. And then a judge granted him asylum — not once, but twice.

Damus committed no crime, and yet the U.S. government has put him behind bars. He’s not alone — thousands of other asylum seekers are also being held in jails across the country.


Today, the ACLU and its partners, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Human Rights First, and Covington & Burling LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of illegally locking up immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States. The plaintiffs are fleeing persecution, torture, or death in their countries of origin. Like Damus, they all followed procedure and presented themselves at the border to apply for asylum, were screened by a government official, and found to have a credible asylum claim that should be heard in court. Instead of offering a humane response, the Trump administration has locked them up indefinitely while their cases are adjudicated.

The arbitrary imprisonment of people like Damus is part of the administration’s larger strategy of deterring immigrants from seeking refuge in the U.S. even though our laws permit them to. This same cruel and abusive deterrence strategy underlies tactics like brutally separating parents from their children, and criminally prosecuting individuals who cross the border to seek asylum.

The administration’s detention of asylum seekers is not only cruel and wasteful. It violates the Constitution, breaks U.S. immigration laws and international law, and goes against the Department of Homeland Security’s written policy.

The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from depriving any person, regardless of citizenship, of their liberty without due process of law. Due process requires a valid reason for putting a person behind bars, and it also requires that meaningful procedures are in place to make sure detention actually serves those goals. The Constitution does not permit the government to take people’s liberty away arbitrarily, regardless of whether the Trump administration wants to send a message that asylum seekers “need not apply.”

Moreover, immigration laws require the government to consider the facts in each case to determine if the individual is a flight risk or a danger to public safety before it detains that person. Similarly, international law prohibits the use of detention to deter asylum seekers from pursuing their claims, without an individualized determination that detention is justified because the person is a danger or flight risk. But the administration is jailing asylum seekers without providing them a meaningful opportunity to show that they don’t need to be locked up in the first place.

Finally, the indiscriminate detention of asylum seekers violates the Department of Homeland Security’s own policies. In 2009, the Obama administration issued a directive instructing ICE Field Offices to grant release on humanitarian parole to asylum seekers, provided that they met a series of stringent requirements: pass their credible fear screening (an interview in which an immigration official determines whether there’s a “significant possibility” the person is eligible for asylum); prove their identity; pose no danger to the community; and provide an address where they will be living and commit to appearing for court dates.

Tell DHS to stop the illegal detention of asylum seekers

This directive is still in place. Yet in practice, people are being illegally detained for months on end, even though they met the directive’s requirements.

Ansly Damus, for example, poses no danger to anyone and has strong claims for protection under our laws. He is an ethics teacher from Grand-Rivière-du-Nord in Haiti and was forced to flee Haiti because of political persecution by “La Meezorequin,” known as the Shark Bones Army, an armed gang that supported a local official, Benjamin Ocenjac. In one of his seminars, he cited Ocenjac as an example of a politician who had used gangs to terrorize the population. As retribution, members of La Meezorequin attacked Damus while he was riding home on his motorcycle, beat him, set his motorcycle on fire, and threatened to kill him. Fearing for his life, he fled Haiti 10 days later.

In October 2016, Damus traveled to the border at Calexico, California, presented himself to the immigration authorities, and requested asylum. After interviewing him, an asylum officer verified that he had a credible asylum claim and referred him for a hearing before an immigration judge. The judge then granted him asylum twice. But because the government appealed each asylum grant, he’s been locked up ever since in a detention facility in Chardon, Ohio, where detainees are kept in windowless rooms. “I have not breathed fresh air or felt the sun on my face,” he says, “and I never know if it is cold or hot outside, if the sun is out, and if the seasons are changing.”

Damus’ case reflects a nationwide problem. Our lawsuit focuses on five ICE field offices covering detention centers in California, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In 2013, these field offices granted 95 percent of asylum seekers’ applications for humanitarian parole. Since Trump took office, their rates of parole grants have dropped to nearly zero. It’s estimated that more than 1,000 asylum seekers have been denied humanitarian parole in these five ICE districts alone.

Immigrants like Ansly Damus are exactly the people the directive was designed to protect, yet the Trump administration is ignoring it entirely. Donald Trump may want to keep immigrants out of America, but he is not above the law or the Constitution as he pursues his inhumane agenda.

View comments (48)
Read the Terms of Use


NO ONE, should be in prison who meets at least 3 out of 5 of the following:
a] has spent up to 30 days w/o a court hearing;
b] has not been given access to an attorney;
c] has already been approved/vetted for court ordered asylum;
e] was gainfully employed in his own country.

James Leonard Park


The United States of America
does limit the number of refugees accepted each year.
For a few years, the limit was 70,000.
This was raised to 85,000 for 2016.
For 2017, the original limit was 110,000.

Under the new administration,
the maximum was reduced 50,000 per year.
For fiscal year 2018 (which began Oct. 1, 2017),
the new limit is 45,000 refugees per year.

Of course, because the process takes so long,
it is difficult to say exactly how many refugees
will be GRANTED asylum in a given period.
There are more than 200,000 asylum cases pending.

These asylum target numbers
produce questionable practices at the border.
The front-line asylum officers know that most
would-be refugees must be turned back.
So they use any tactics they can think of
to achieve a 'voluntary return' for most foreigners
who considered seeking asylum in the USA.

Advocates who want more refugees to be accepted
might attempt to LIFT THE LIMITS on the number of refugees.
Both Congress and the President have powers
concerning how open we should be to claims for asylum.

However, because the USA turns away
FAR MORE would-be refugees than it accepts,
perhaps the standards for accepting refugees
should be narrowed and simplified.

Especially if we accept FAR FEWER new refugees,
there will be more than enough people in REAL DANGER
that we need not even consider most claims for asylum.

What if we said only persons quite certain to DIE
if forced to return to their homelands
should be granted asylum in America?

If the DANGER OF DEATH becomes the new criterion
for receiving asylum in the USA,
then officers and asylum-seekers alike
will have an easier method
for separating the very few who might die
from the many who would PROBABLY NOT DIE
if required to return to their homelands.

If likely-to-die becomes the only test,
them most current asylum-seekers
would give up their cases before they begin.
And those who would face almost certain death
if returned to their countries of origin
would be allowed to remain in the United States.

The 'danger of death' should be as explicit as possible.
WHO in the country of origin is threatening death?
How long ago was that threat real?
(Asylum-seekers living for more than a decade in the USA
will have difficulty proving that old death-threats are still current.)
Would it be possible to return to a DIFFERENT LOCATION
within the country of origin without being killed?

And if the danger of death is accepted as the new standard,
then there will be much less confusion
in the minds of people who want to come to the USA.
Those who can prove their lives are in danger
EVERYWHERE in their homelands should be granted asylum.

But most IMMIGRANTS (not refugees) to America
will be accepted because they can CONTRIBUTE to the USA,
not because their VERY LIVES ARE IN DANGER.

Read more about the difference between
ordinary immigration and claiming asylum:

Kriss Halpern

The cruelty and shallowness of your argument is stunning. Why do you assume that persons fleeing persecution are not able to contribute? Why do you think there is some facile way for a refugee to demonstrate their life is literally at risk, as opposed to their being subject to danger from persecution, which in itself is extraordinarily difficult? Do you think being imprisoned or tortured or threatened is just not good enough to give a damn about?


You are an idiot, refugees, and asylum seekers are a different thing and it is not a new criterion, is the fear that your life is in danger based on your race, religion, sexual orientation, political opinion, special group...


Wonder why no one said a word at France the progressive mecca when they haven't had a year with more than 10 new citizens into its system via immigration. Seems these outraged folks are more outraged at who is in power vs caring about people. Why didnt Oblozo administration do anything about any of the issues dems whine anout when he had full control his first 2 years in office. Guess the ACLU forgot to do some actual research on its faulty rush to bash Trump over actually being right on the FACTS.


What am I missing? Donald Trump was not in office in October of 2016.

Freedom Now

Wow, some people think that if you grant someone asylum, they are going to flee illegally into the country. What kind of twisted thinking is this? What is wrong with these people? These aren't illegal immigrants. They didn't enter the country illegally. They presented themselves at the border asking for asylum. They have committed no crimes. And, they are being locked up for years. This is ridiculous and criminal. And even after the judge grants their asylum, ICE won't release them. This Trump administration is a criminal, racist organization. Denying people their justice and due process. And, disobeying the law and judges decisions for no reasonable purpose, except contempt for black Haitians.


We need the truth from the media, not fed fear for others political gain. I should not have to explore the internet extensively to find the truth about a story.


Stay Informed