Migrants at the US-Mexico border (Getty)
Bolstering the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” anti-immigration policy, Attorney General William Barr orders an end to bail for some asylum seekers.
Barr’s order, part of the Administration’s discouragement of migrants from applying for asylum, could lead to long-term detention for thousands as they wait for resolution of their requests.
Since 2005 all migrants with a “credible fear” of persecution in home countries can request a bond hearing so they can be released on bail while waiting months or years for decisions.
Barr overturned the Board of Immigration Appeals ruling, in a case of an Indian man crossing into the US from Mexico: “[An immigrant], after establishing a credible fear of persecution or torture, is ineligible for release on bond.”
The order covers those migrants crossing between two dozen US ports of entry. Those who arrive at ports of entry are not yet affected, and unaccompanied minors and families are excluded because of court decisions. The mandate will not go into effect for 90 days and is likely to be challenged in federal court, as immigrant rights lawyers say basic rights of asylum seekers will be curbed.
Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the Immigrants Rights’ Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, summarized, “They want to send a message that you will get detained. We are talking about people who are fleeing for their lives, seeking safety. And our response is just lock them up.”
Rabinovitz warned that Barr’s order can be extended to cover other asylum seekers: “That’s what Trump’s mantra is: End catch and release. What does that mean? It’s human beings. We’re not talking about a game of cat and mouse.”
Under the “zero tolerance” approach, announced in April 2018 by Barr’s predecessor Jeff Sessions, officials have slowed processing of asylum requests. They have told migrants to wait in Mexico because US ports of entry are at capacity. Sessions made it harder for victims of gang violence or domestic abuse to file asylum applications.
Earlier this month, during a visit to the border, Donald Trump reportedly told border agents to break the law by denying entry to asylum seekers, and guaranteed a pardon to Customs and Border Protection head Kevin McAleenan — now acting Homeland Security Director —if he issues the order and a judge challenges the legal violation.
Trump later denied he offered the pardon, but continued his verbal assault on asylum seekers on Monday, mimicking one of them reading from a piece of paper: “People come in, they read a line from a lawyer that a lawyer hands them out online. It’s a big con job. That’s what it is.”
Far from curbing migrants, the Administration’s high-profile rhetoric and actions — including Trump’s Wall and the separation of children from parents, putting them into detention hundreds and even thousands of miles away — have only spurred a surge reversing decades of decline in border crossings. Almost 100,000 migrants, most of them from families, were apprehended by border officers in March, the highest monthly level in more than 10 years.
Barr appeared to acknowledge overcrowding at detention centers, “I will delay the effective date of this decision for 90 days so that D.H.S. may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions.”
Appointed in February, Barr has already provided cover for Trump with his letter trying to quash any political or criminal fallout from the Mueller Report on Trump-Russia links.
The Attorney General is scheduled to give copies of the report to Congress on Thursday, but he may make significant redactions limiting Trump’s exposure.