New Analysis Finds Hurdles to Release, Asylum in Georgia Immigration Detention Facilities
Washington, D.C.—In a new analysis released today, Human Rights First found that asylum seekers and immigrants detained in Georgia are often held for long periods of time and face a near-moratorium on parole, despite a national directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) setting out clear criteria for release. The report comes as Congress prepares to debate oversight of the agency in a hearing today before the House Judiciary Committee.
“Many asylum seekers are held in remote detention facilities in Georgia for months or longer, where it is essentially impossible for them to win asylum, obtain legal counsel, or secure release even when they meet the applicable criteria,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “Sadly what we saw in Georgia reflects a broader national trend. U.S. detention policies and practices relating to families with children and adult asylum seekers violate U.S. human rights and refugee protection legal obligations. Given this country’s global leadership on the protection of refugees, this country’s recent—and massive—increase in the use of detention for asylum seekers sets a troubling precedent.”
Human Rights First notes that the use of immigration detention has risen sharply under the Obama Administration, with more asylum seekers sent to immigration detention, often being held there for months. Not only is the use of detention exceedingly expensive, it is also not necessary in many cases. For cases where additional support is needed to assure appearance for immigration appointments, immigration authorities can use alternative measures that rely on case management and community support.
Human Rights First researchers met with 77 men and women detained at the Irwin County Detention Center and the Stewart Detention Center in southern Georgia, which are operated by Lasalle Corrections company and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Stewart is the largest immigration detention center in the United States for adults. The majority of those men and women were seeking asylum. Human Rights First found that:
- Asylum seekers and other immigrants are held in these detention facilities for long periods of time. Some we met had been detained for eight months and reports from local attorneys indicate that many spend more than a year locked up.
- Despite ICE’s national directive outlining the parole criteria for asylum seekers, there appeared to be a near moratorium on parole for asylum seekers at these facilities.
- Indigent asylum seekers and immigrants are routinely asked to pay bond amounts—a monetary condition of release—which they cannot afford, while those categorized as “arriving” aliens are denied access to immigration court custody (bond) hearings altogether.
- Access to counsel at these facilities is disturbingly low—data show that only six percent of individuals detained at Stewart obtain counsel—and only a few of the 77 men and women we met with had legal counsel, and most of those lawyers were located in distant states.
- Many asylum seekers and immigrants expressed concern at prolonged separation from family due to both lengthy detentions and, in many cases, separation from family by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or ICE.
- Lack of counsel, lack of parole, unduly high bonds, and the exceedingly high asylum denial rates at these facilities—nearly double the national average—thwart access to asylum. Many face the unbearable choice of long-term detention or accepting a deportation order to a country where they fear persecution.
Earlier this year a Human Rights First report detailed the increase in asylum seekers held in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the failure of the Obama Administration, specifically the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ), to effectively implement existing parole guidance for asylum seekers and reasonable bond levels for indigent individuals held in immigration detention.
The report shows that some ICE officers and field offices disregard ICE’s own 2009 asylum parole directive. As detailed in the report, some local ICE offices have taken the position that asylum seekers are a top enforcement priority under DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s November 2014 memorandum, extending detention for many months even when asylum seekers meet the relevant parole or release criteria. Moreover, immigration judges, who often review ICE custody decisions and have the authority to release asylum seekers on conditional parole or bond, often fail to consider an individual’s ability to pay by setting prohibitively high bonds.
The bipartisan U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom recently issued a report finding that ICE often holds asylum seekers in detention facilities under penal conditions, even after they have passed a credible fear interview.