Federal Court Blocks Government from Detaining Asylum Seekers as Tactic to Deter Others from Coming to U.S.

February 20, 2015 5:15 pm

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WASHINGTON — A federal court today granted a preliminary injunction putting an immediate halt to the Obama administration’s policy of locking up asylum-seeking mothers and children as a way to deter others from coming to the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the U.S. for safety. Each has been found by an immigration officer or judge to have a “credible fear” of persecution, meaning there is a “significant possibility” they will be granted asylum.

The Department of Homeland Security has been denying release of these families as part of an “aggressive deterrence strategy.” In rejecting the U.S. government’s argument that detention of the women and children was necessary to prevent a mass influx that would threaten national security, the court wrote that the “incantation of the magic words ‘national security’ without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty.”

“The court held that it was illegal to detain families based on deterrence. It made clear that the government cannot deprive individuals of their liberty merely to send a message to others,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This ruling means that the government cannot continue to lock up families without an individualized determination that they pose a danger or flight risk that requires their detention.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of asylum-seeking mothers and children who are being detained at facilities across the country, in places such as Karnes and Dilley, Texas, and Berks County, Penn. Named plaintiffs in this case — all of whom cleared credible-fear screenings and are now seeking asylum — include:

  • A mother who, along with her son, fled from Honduras after years of physical abuse at the hands of her son’s father. After he raped her, she escaped with the help of members of her church.
  • A mother who fled El Salvador with her 5-year-old and 8-month-old daughters to escape brutal and unrelenting abuse by the children’s father.
  • A Salvadoran woman who, with her young son and daughter, escaped to the United States after her common-law husband physically abused her and threatened to kill her children.

The case, RILR v. Johnson, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Lead counsel are the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and Covington & Burling LLP. Other counsel are the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the ACLU of Texas, and the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law at Austin.

The order is at: https://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/rilr-v-johnson-order

More information about this case is at: https://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/rilr-v-johnson

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