Federal Judge Orders Obama Administration to Stop Automatically Detaining Women and Children Seeking Asylum

Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A mother and her child in a U.S. detention facility (photo: Eric Gay, AP)

The Obama administration has been told by a federal court to cease using illegal immigrant women and children seeking asylum as pawns in its effort to discourage others from trying to reach the United States.


Since the wave of immigrants flooding into the U.S. began two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has automatically been detaining women and minors at the border, including those wanting asylum from persecution or threats in their home countries.


The government has also been routinely denying these immigrants their requests for asylum, even after they were able to prove the validity of their fears of persecution if sent back home.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law filed suit in federal court in Washington, DC, to stop DHS from its practice of holding asylum seekers just so it could demonstrate to others outside the U.S. that they should not try making the trek to the Southwest border.


After reviewing the complaint, Judge James E. Boasberg sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the administration to cease detaining immigrants solely “for the purpose of deterring future immigration.”


Going forward, the government must examine each asylum request and only hold those deemed a potential risk to public safety.


“The court specifically rejected the government’s assertion that detention was necessary to protect national security,” Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, told The New York Times.


The ACLU and the Texas clinic brought the lawsuit “on behalf of mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the United States for safety,” said the ACLU. And each of those plaintiffs was “found by an immigration officer or judge to have a ‘credible fear’ of persecution.”


Among the plaintiffs in the case, said the ACLU, is “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. She and her daughters are being further traumatized because they are locked up in detention as they await their asylum hearing, even though they have a U.S.-citizen relative who has offered to support them and provide the care the family needs.”


Other plaintiffs who escaped similar life-threatening circumstances were also cited.


Boasberg’s ruling (pdf) will result in many illegal immigrant women and children who are currently being detained getting let out of their detention center as early as next week.


There are reportedly more than 1,000 women and children being held in U.S. detention facilities.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Judge Orders Stop to Detention of Families at Borders (by Julia Preston, New York Times)

RILR v. Johnson (American Civil Liberties Union)

R.I. L-R v. Jeh Charles Johnson (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)

Undocumented Immigrant Women with Children Rarely Allowed to Stay…Unless They have a Lawyer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Despite Opposition from Majority of Americans, Obama Fast Tracks Deportation of Children (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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