Federal Court Rules with TRLA Clients in Asylum Case

WASHINGTON (Jan. 4, 2019)—Six asylum seekers are challenging the federal government’s detention policies with the assistance of TRLA. The asylum seekers allege that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is subjecting them to prolonged civil detention for the illegal purpose of deterring other victims from seeking refuge in the United States. On Jan. 4, Judge Rudolph Contreras, U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia, denied the government’s bid to dismiss the asylum seekers’ suit. (Sadat I. et al. v. Nielsen et al., case number 1:17-cv-01976, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia). Instead, the asylum seekers were permitted to proceed with their lawsuit and join additional plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs claim that the federal government has denied them parole from detention in violation of its own policies and to deter other asylum seekers from coming to the United States. “We look forward to entering the next phase of this lawsuit and ultimately to proving our case,” said Peter McGraw, one of the TRLA attorneys representing the asylum seekers. “All of our clients have been imprisoned for far too long. Mikailu J. has been detained for more than two years while he waits for a final decision in his asylum case. He’s a young journalist who fled persecution in Sierra Leone. He entered the United States legally at a bridge on the U.S.-Mexico border and asked the United States for asylum. We should not contribute to the trauma he’s been through by making an example out of him to deter other asylum seekers. Mikailu J. and all of our clients deserve to be released while their asylum cases proceed, and they would have been released were it not for the government’s unlawful policy.”

In 2017, TRLA initially filed suit on behalf of several asylum seekers, who were detained in prison-like conditions instead of being paroled into the United States for the pendency of their asylum cases. The plaintiffs all passed their “credible fear” interviews, which assess whether asylum seekers have a “credible” fear of persecution or torture in their home country. TRLA argues that the government is violating its own 2009 directive, governing when asylum seekers should be released from detention. An amended complaint filed in March 2018 argues that the U.S. government is detaining asylum seekers eligible for parole in order to "penalize them for their status as asylum-seekers," to "burden their right to petition for asylum so that they relinquish their claims and return home" and to "deter other victims of persecution from seeking asylum in the United States."

In July 2018, Judge Contreras handed down a preliminary injunction in favor of the asylum seekers, finding that their claims challenging the government’s policy are likely to succeed. In his latest ruling, Judge Contreras writes that "Defendants have submitted no evidence that they have permanently halted or altered the alleged policy….”

nancy nusser