Judge Rules Asylum Seekers Must Receive Bond Hearings

SEATTLE (CN) – It is unconstitutional to deny bond hearings to asylum seekers, a federal judge in Washington state ruled Tuesday. 

In April, the Justice Department announced it was reversing a 50-year policy that allowed asylum seekers who entered the country illegally to request release on bond before an immigration judge. The new procedure – an attempt to deter an influx of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border – would require immigrants in removal proceedings awaiting asylum determination to be detained for the duration of their review. 

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman’s ruling blocks the enforcement of this new policy, which was set to take effect July 15. 

Pechman issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the class of asylum seekers April 5, and she affirmed that ruling Tuesday, requiring immigration officials to conduct bond hearings within seven days of a request, prove why the immigrant should not be released on bond and record the proceedings. 

Pechman also modified the preliminary injunction to find that it is unconstitutional to deny bond hearings for people who have a credible fear of persecution if returned to their home country.

“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have established a constitutionally-protected interest in their liberty, a right to due process which includes a hearing before a neutral decisionmaker to the necessity of their detention, and a likelihood of success on the merits of that issue,” Pechman said in her 20-page ruling

The judge said the “balance of equities and the public interest” weigh in favor of the class rather than the government, citing a legal precedent that puts “preventable human suffering” before financial concerns. 

“The equities favoring Plaintiffs continue to be: The deprivation of their constitutional rights, the physical/emotional/psychological damage engendered by their indefinite detention, the separation from their families, and the negative impact on their ability to properly prepare their cases,” Pechman said. 

A class of asylum seekers that is suing the federal government over its policy of separating migrant families at the border challenged the bond policy. The class is represented by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. 

“The court reaffirmed what has been settled for decades: that asylum seekers who enter this country have a right to be free from arbitrary detention,” the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Thousands of asylum seekers can now continue to safely seek protection from persecution and torture.”

The White House blasted Pechman as “an unelected judge” whose ruling “is at war with the rule of law.”

“No single district judge has legitimate authority to impose his or her open borders views on the country. We must restore our democracy and ensure Americans have the voice to which they are entitled under our Constitution,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

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