PHOENIX (AP) — In a major reversal of U.S immigration and human rights policy, Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday declared that detained asylum-seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country will no longer be able to ask a judge to grant them bond.
Barr decided that asylum-seekers who clear a credible-fear interview and are facing removal do not have the right to be released on bond by an immigration judge while their cases are pending. Barr has the authority to overturn rulings made by immigration courts, which fall under the Justice Department.
It’s Barr’s first immigration-related decision since taking office. The American Civil Liberties Union said late Tuesday that the plan was unconstitutional and that it planned to sue.
Typically, asylum-seekers who crosses between ports of entry have the right to ask a judge to grant bond them for release. Under the new ruling, they will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated, which often takes years.
“There will be many, many people who are not going to even have the opportunity to apply for release now,” said Gregory Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Chen said that about 90% of asylum-seekers pass their credible fear interview, the first step in seeking political asylum.
The decision does not affect asylum-seeking families because they generally can’t be held for longer than 20 days. Nor does it apply to unaccompanied minors.
Barr’s ruling takes effect in 90 days and comes amid a frustrating time for the Trump administration as the number of families crossing the border has skyrocketed. Most are families from Central America who are fleeing violence and poverty. Many seek asylum.
There were 161,000 asylum applications filed in the last fiscal year and 46,000 in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.
Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, said the number of decisions by immigration judges that the Trump administration has referred to itself for review is unprecedented. The administration — under both Barr and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — has reviewed 10 immigration rulings. That’s compared to four under all of President Barack Obama’s tenure and nine during George W. Bush’s.
“This has been a really unprecedented use of power to influence the immigration system,” Pierce said.