New Analysis Finds Hurdles to Release, Asylum in New Jersey Immigration Detention Facilities
New York City—Human Rights First today released a report detailing high rates of immigration detention of asylum seekers in New Jersey, which finds that asylum seekers are often detained for months or longer, despite a national directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) setting out clear criteria for release. Immigrants detained in New Jersey are also often required to pay bond amounts they cannot afford as a condition of release.
“Many asylum seekers in New Jersey who meet criteria for release are languishing in detention facilities—sometimes for eight months or longer—making it more difficult for them to secure legal counsel or reunite with their families,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “Unfortunately, this situation is not limited to New Jersey; across the United States the Obama Administration is using detention as part of a policy designed to deter future migrants and asylum seekers—a policy that most likely violates U.S. treaty obligations.”
Human Rights First notes that the use of immigration detention has risen to historic highs under the Obama Administration, with asylum seekers often held in facilities 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.
Today’s report is based on in-depth research on immigration detention as well as on visits last month by Human Rights First researchers to three detention facilities—the Elizabeth Detention Center, the Essex County Correctional Facility, and the Hudson County Correctional Facility. Human Rights First reports:
- ICE rarely grants parole to arriving asylum seekers, even when they appear to meet the criteria outlined in ICE’s 2009 Asylum Parole Directive, and often fails to properly implement required procedural steps, such as conducting parole interviews within seven days of a positive credible fear finding and issuing a written decision. Moreover, arriving asylum seekers are denied access to immigration court custody (bond) hearings.
- Of 91 asylum seekers detained in New Jersey who were represented by two nonprofits over the last year and a half, only three were released on parole; instead asylum seekers have been held in detention, even when they meet the release criteria, for 6 to 8 months on average. In one case, a Togolese asylum seeker was held for two-and-a-half years in detention until a judge determined that he was a refugee and his removal was withheld.
- Immigrants detained in New Jersey who do have access to immigration court custody reviews are often required to pay bond amounts they cannot afford as a condition of release.
- Many asylum seekers remain in prolonged detention—often for six to eight months or more—due to their lack of access to viable release mechanisms.
- Access to counsel remains a challenge, particularly at the Essex County facility, where various barriers impede attorney-client communications; many asylum seekers and other immigrants lack legal counsel, though recent initiatives have improved representation rates in New Jersey.
- The conditions in the three facilities—one operated by a private prison company and the others by counties—are essentially identical to those in many criminal correctional facilities, with asylum seekers and other immigrants made to wear prison uniforms, strip-searched when permitted contact visitation (at two of the facilities), and denied meaningful outdoor recreation.
Earlier this year a Human Rights First report detailed the nationwide 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 release measures 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, Lifeline on Lockdown 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 and set prohibitively high bonds. In September 2016 Human Rights First released a report on the rise in detention rates in Georgia facilities.
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.
“At a time when it is more important than ever for the United States to show global leadership on refugees, our country’s detention policy highlights how much work there is to do to reclaim our legacy of protecting the persecuted,” noted Byrne.