New York City—Human Rights First today expressed its concern over the Supreme Court’s decision to schedule the Jennings v. Rodriguez case for reargument in its next session, a move that will leave many asylum seekers and immigrants held in prolonged immigration detention for longer. Human Rights First filed an amicus brief with other international legal experts, and a supplemental amicus brief on the U.S. failure to release eligible asylum seekers from detention on parole, urging the Court to uphold the lower court ruling providing immigration court custody hearings for asylum seekers and other immigration detainees who have been held in U.S. immigration detention for six months or longer already.
“The Court’s decision to punt this case to its next session was a missed opportunity to uphold the the United States’ constitutional commitment to liberty and U.S. human rights treaty obligations that prohibit arbitrary detention. It will leave many asylum seekers and immigrants locked up in U.S. immigration detention facilities for even longer periods of time,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The decision allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to continue, in most parts of the country, to act as both jailer and judge in deciding whether to continue to hold an asylum seeker or migrant in a detention facility for longer than six months.”
Jennings v. Rodriguez is on appeal from the Ninth Circuit and the Court’s decision will impact a significant number of asylum seekers and immigrants who are held in immigration detention facilities across the country for many months but denied access to immigration court bond hearings to seek release from detention even when held in U.S. detention facilities for six months or longer.
The critical importance of the issues before the Supreme Court in this case have taken on even more urgency following President Trump’s January 25 executive order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” which calls for increased use of immigration detention, and the Department of Homeland Security’s February 2017 memorandum implementing that executive order, which directed that release on parole be used “sparingly.”
Immigration detention has recently been at record highs and asylum seekers are already being detained for months or more in jails and facilities that resemble prisons. In a series of reports, Human Rights First documented the sharp escalation in the detention of asylum seekers and the failure to release eligible asylum seekers on parole (see: Lifeline on Lockdown, Detention of Asylum Seekers in New Jersey, Detention of Asylum Seekers in Georgia, Violations at the Border). Human Rights First continues to receive reports of parole denials of eligible asylum seekers. For instance, non-profit legal providers and ICE data indicate that during the first quarter of 2017, while over 200 arriving asylum seekers were eligible for parole in New Jersey immigration detention facilities, all of them were denied release.
Human Rights First’s February 2017 supplemental amicus brief details that, contrary to the government’s claim that asylum seekers are automatically considered for parole and ordinarily released, arriving asylum seekers often do not receive parole interviews or determinations, and those who do are subject to arbitrary and inconsistent release decisions. The brief makes clear that the parole authority falls far short of providing a constitutional safeguard against prolonged and arbitrary detention.
Human Rights First’s initial amicus brief, filed in October 2016 on behalf of international human rights law and refugee law experts, argued that U.S. international human rights obligations—including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)—require individualized assessments and court review of detention for asylum seekers and immigrants held in U.S. immigration detention.
In addition to its research and reporting on U.S. asylum and refugee protection systems, Human Rights First operates one of the largest programs for pro bono legal representation of refugees in the nation, working in partnership with volunteer lawyers at leading law firms to provide legal representation without charge to thousands of asylum applicants who cannot afford legal counsel, including those detained in U.S. immigration detention facilities.
Pro bono counsel Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler LLP represented Human Rights First and the international legal experts in connection with these briefs.