WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge ruled Thursday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement must make parole decisions on an individual basis for immigrants seeking asylum, instead of issuing blanket denials.
The 24-page opinion issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington says that ICE’s New Orleans field office, which manages five states in the southeastern part of the country, must comply with the previously established agency policy of providing individualized parole decisions.
The judge noted that the office denied parole to asylum seekers only 24.5% of the time in 2016. That number shot up to 82% in 2017 and 98.5% in 2018, and reached the “unsurpassable height of a 100% denial rate this year,” according to the ruling.
“Defendants offer absolutely no explanation for the precipitous nosedive in the parole-grant rates issued by an office that has allegedly preserved the same underlying policy for making those decisions all along,” Boasberg wrote. “Plaintiffs also offer a number of declarations from asylum-seekers and their advocates that describe the New Orleans field office’s myriad violations of the parole directive. These declarations attest to the automatic, rather than individualized, nature of the parole proceedings, various aspects of which run directly contrary to the guarantees provided by the directive.”
The judge added that the ICE office sometimes does not respond to parole requests at all, and when it does it issues boilerplate denials.
“The numbers and the affidavits provide a powerful case – one the government barely attempts to rebut – that the New Orleans field office no longer follows the dictates of the parole directive,” he wrote.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which first filed the lawsuit in May along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, applauded the ruling.
Laura Rivera, director of the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, said asylum seekers have a right to pursue parole if they abide by the law.
“Now, we look forward to working with community members to provide the knowledge about how to submit parole applications. ICE must be held to its burden of giving meaningful consideration for detained people’s request for parole,” Rivera said in a statement Thursday.
Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement that the denial of parole to asylum seekers “underscores the brutality of our immigration system.”
“Our clients have endured dehumanizing treatment – from excessive solitary confinement to inadequate health care – all the while with virtually no hope of release,” he said.