Trump Administration Can't Detain Asylum Seekers Indefinitely, Federal Judge Rules

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman called Attorney General William Barr's order denying bond hearings to some migrants "unconstitutional."

A federal judge in Seattle has blocked a Trump administration policy that allowed asylum seekers to be held indefinitely behind bars.

Immigration advocates lauded the ruling as a forceful rejection of President Donald Trump’s efforts to deter migrants from seeking asylum. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman warned in her decision, however, that the fight over this issue was likely far from over.  

The government, she wrote, was likely to appeal her ruling — and “swiftly.”

Attorney General William Barr had issued an order in April directing immigration judges to deny bond hearings to migrants determined to have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries. These asylum seekers would remain in detention, Barr said, unless and until the Department of Homeland Security chooses to release them.

Describing the order as “unconstitutional,” Pechman this week blocked Barr’s ruling, which would have gone into effect July 15.

“It is the finding of this Court that it is unconstitutional to deny these class members a bond hearing while they await a final determination of their asylum request,” the judge wrote, adding that the policy would likely cause “irreparable harm” to those detained.  

The American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued the Trump administration over the order, applauded the judge’s ruling on Tuesday. 

“The court forcefully rejected the Trump administration’s bid to arbitrarily jail asylum seekers without a hearing,” Michael Tan of the ACLU said in a statement. “Try as it may, the administration cannot circumvent the constitution in its effort to deter and punish asylum seekers applying for protection.”

Matt Adams of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said the Washington court had “reaffirmed what has been settled for decades: that asylum seekers who enter this country have a right to be free from arbitrary detention.”

“Thousands of asylum-seekers will continue to be able to seek release on bond, as they seek protection from persecution and torture,” Adams added.