Illegal Immigrants Sue Trump Administration for Detaining Them

Legal challenge directed at ICE an apparent reaction to crackdown on asylum status abuse

by Margaret Menge | Updated 09 Oct 2017 at 8:24 AM

A group of illegal aliens filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration last week, claiming Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has retaliated against them for filing asylum claims by keeping them in detention for months in “prison-like” conditions.

The suit was filed on behalf of five people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Three are from West Africa, one is from Honduras, and one is from Guatemala.

All have claimed that they have a "credible fear" of persecution or torture if they were returned to their own country, and are asking for asylum in the United States.

Judicial Watch, which uncovered evidence in 2013 that illegal immigrants were being coached to claim asylum to get around U.S. immigration laws, said the lawsuit appears to be a reaction to a crackdown on abuse of asylum.

"It appears that the 'credible fear' gravy train has finally come to a halt, and illegal immigrants and their open border allies are suing the Trump administration to return to the good ole days," Irene Garcia, a researcher with the watchdog organization wrote.

The number of people seeking asylum in the U.S. rose sevenfold in just five years during the Obama administration, from about 5,000 a year to 36,000. Judicial Watch reported in 2013 that a veteran immigration lawyer in Texas said of asylum: "It's like the magic word. Say it and the government has to give you a 'credible-fear' hearing."

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on September 26, lawyers claim that the First and Fifth amendment rights of the five asylum seekers are being violated, and that the U.S. government is also violating "basic principles of international law" by keeping the asylum seekers in detention while their claims are being evaluated.

One of the plaintiffs, it was alleged, is having stomach problems because of the poor diet in the detention center, which includes having to eat white bread.

The suit names as defendants Elaine Duke, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, a sub-agency of DHS; and several top division leaders at ICE.

One of the plaintiffs is a young woman from Guatemala, who they say was forced to leave her country with her eight-year-old daughter, though no reason is given. In northern Mexico, her vehicle was overturned, her daughter was killed, and she was injured. In December of 2016, she crossed the international bridge at Hidalgo, Texas, and requested asylum.

"U.S. officials refused to process Plaintiff Rodriguez and told her to leave," the suit alleges, saying she was kidnapped as soon as she reached the Mexican side of the bridge after being turned around.

Two months later, the suit says, the woman tried again, "this time accompanied by human rights monitors and attorneys, and again asked for political asylum. This time she was properly processed."

The lawyers say that the woman passed her credible-fear interview in March but has remained in detention, even though she has presented to authorities documents from family and friends in the U.S. "willing and able to sponsor her, as well as proof of her identity."

Tens of thousands of Guatemalans came to the U.S. in the 1980s and '90s, fleeing the Guatemalan Civil War. But the war ended in 1996, more than 20 years ago.

In 2014, during a surge of unaccompanied minors at the southern border, Guatemala's first lady said the Guatemalan teenagers who were flooding into the U.S. were not fleeing violence, as had been reported, but were looking to reunite with family members who'd settled in the U.S.

"In the municipalities where these kids are coming from, there aren't any gangs," Rosa Leal de Pérez told reporters.

Also, under asylum laws, an asylum seeker is supposed to seek asylum in the first country he travels to. It's unknown why the Guatemalan woman didn't seek asylum in Mexico, a country where her native Spanish is spoken and which is culturally similar to Guatemala.

Also curious is why the young woman would have made a second attempt to cross into the U.S., again seeking asylum, and who the human rights monitors and lawyers were who accompanied her. Who is paying for them? And why are they pushing Guatemalans into the U.S. instead of helping them settle in Mexico?

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has pointed out that although there is violence in some parts of the country, notably the border area, Mexico's homicide rate is well below that of several other Latin American countries like El Salvador and Honduras, which have the highest rates in the world. El Salvador is number-one, with 108 murders for every 100,000 people in 2015 while Honduras had 63 murders per 100,000 people. Mexico didn't even make the top 20 list for murders, coming in at 23. Guatemala was number 10 on the list.

The three asylum seekers from West Africa who are listed as plaintiffs are from Sierra Leone and Guinea, both Muslim-majority countries, and from Ghana.

The man from Guinea is claiming, according to the suit, "severe ethnic and political persecution." He reached Reynosa, Mexico, in early 2017, according to the suit, and crossed the international bridge into the U.S. claiming asylum. It's unknown how he was able to travel to Mexico and why he did not seek asylum in another African country, or in Mexico after arriving there.

The man from Ghana, meanwhile, is claiming that he was attacked and beaten, and saw his house burned to the ground because he is gay. He also crossed into the U.S. from Mexico, at Tijuana. In this case also, it is unclear why he did not seek asylum in another African country, or in Mexico.

"One of the very first executive actions taken by Obama was to direct ICE to release asylum seekers instead of keeping them detained until their cases could be decided," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies. "This greatly increased the number of asylum claims over time."

Many of those released after claiming asylum, she said, disappeared into the interior of the U.S. and were never heard from again.

Several terrorists entered the U.S. this way, including Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Yousef was also the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks.

Yousef had claimed asylum after arriving in the U.S., saying he was originally from Pakistan and had lost his passport. He was held for 72 hours and then released, freeing him to plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in early 1993.

The U.S. accepts those seeking asylum in accordance with the Refugee Act of 1980, and the 1967 United Nations Protocol on Refugees.

Under the law, it must be shown that a person has a "credible fear" of persecution or torture if returned to his home country based on one of five things: religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Vaughan said that before Obama, it was U.S. policy that people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border would be required to go to the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and apply for asylum there, which dissuaded a lot of frivolous asylum seekers.

The reality, said Vaughan, is that most of those seeking asylum are actually just seeking better economic opportunity in the U.S.

"Most of the human smugglers coach their clients on how to claim asylum and they know that they stand little chance of deportation after they manage to get into the U.S.," she told LifeZette in an email.

Immigrant rights groups are also involved.

Judicial Watch found in 2015, from reviewing memos obtained through a public information request, that in hundreds of cases the Department of Homeland Security knew that a group called the National Immigrant Youth Alliance had coached illegal immigrants to falsely claim a "credible fear" of persecution in their home country in order to get asylum.

Customs and Border Patrol allowed the illegal aliens to stay in the U.S., according to the documents, even though the agency knew they'd been coached to fabricate asylum claims.

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