(CN) — The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration Thursday, accusing it of blatantly ignoring immigration law and its own stated policies by detaining immigrants legitimately seeking asylum in the United States.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., the ACLU claims the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is unlawfully detaining many asylum seekers for months while they await hearings before an immigration judge.
Immigrants seeking asylum must initially pass a “credible fear” screening to determine if they face a threat of persecution in their home countries.
In the past, those who passed the screening were routinely given “humanitarian parole” while they awaited an immigration hearing, where a final determination of their status would be made.
But the ACLU says that under Trump, the number of asylum-seekers granted such parole has plummeted in several ICE jurisdictions, including Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., El Paso, Texas and Los Angeles.
According to the ACLU, in 2013, nine out of 10 asylum seekers in the five field offices were found to meet the government’s criteria and were promptly released from immigration custody.
In 2017, the organization says, parole grants by the ICE offices named in the lawsuit dropped to nearly zero.
More than 1,000 asylum seekers are estimated to have been denied parole in those five ICE districts alone, the ACLU claims.
“For many asylum seekers, prolonged detention unjustly denies freedom to those who fled to us for justice,” said Hardy Vieux, Human Rights First’s legal director, in a written statement.
” The Trump administration’s attack on parole is part of its ongoing assault to undermine the asylum system, a cornerstone of our nation’s identity since its founding. Exacerbating the suffering of individuals to deter future asylum seekers is simply un-American,” Vieux said.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, names the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice as defendants.
ICE officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment about the lawsuit.