U.S. Cuts Number of Refugees to 30,000 in FY2019

U.S. Cuts Number of Refugees to 30,000 in FY2019

The US Refugee Admissions Program (hereinafter “USRAP”) was set up in 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act.  U.S. and international law currently say that people can seek asylum if they fear persecution at home on the basis of their race, political opinion, nationality, religion or because they belong to a particular social group.

The U.S. says it will cap the number of refugees allowed into the country next year at a near record low of 30,000.  According to the Pew Research Center, the US had previously led the world in accepting refugees with more than 3 million people resettled since 1980.  The FY2019 numbers compare with a 45,000-refugee limit set by President Trump for FY2018 and 50,000 for FY2017.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced “the new refugee ceiling”, adding the US would also process more than 280,000 asylum seekers in FY2019.  The lowest such admissions figure was in FY2002, after 9/11, when some 27,000 refugees were allowed into the US.  Over the past decade, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has fluctuated from a low of 48,282 in FY2007 to a high of 84,995 in FY2016.

Secretary Pompeo said it would be “wrong” to view the refugee ceiling as “the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world”.  The limit had to be viewed “in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States”, he said.  During a brief press conference, in which he did not take any questions from reporters, Secretary Pompeo said that the cut was needed because of a backlog of 800,000 pending asylum cases.  He added that the new policy “serves the national security interests” of the U.S.

With respect to FY2018, the U.S. is currently on track to admit only about half the maximum number of refugees allowed.  By the end of August 2018, fewer than 20,000 refugees had been admitted, which means it is unlikely that the U.S. will hit its current cap.


Judge Orders Full Restart of DACA Program

A D.C.-based federal judge on August 3, 2018 ordered the Trump administration to restart in full the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (hereinafter “DACA”).

U.S. District Judge John Bates stated the order would be delayed until August 23, 2018 to allow the government to appeal, but he denied a Justice Department motion to reconsider his earlier decision, saying there were still deficiencies in the administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA.  “The court has already once given DHS the opportunity to remedy these deficiencies — either by providing a coherent explanation of its legal opinion or by reissuing its decision for bona fide policy reasons that would preclude judicial review,” said Bates, “So it will not do so again.”

Bates in April became the third federal judge to order the administration to restart renewals for people previously approved for DACA.  He also threatened to vacate the memo ending DACA — and thereby restore the program in full — if Trump officials could not present an adequate reason for ending it.

If the ruling goes into effect, the administration will be required to accept new applications from people who meet DACA’s eligibility requirements.

Government Immigration Enforcement Activity at Record High

Immigration Customs Enforcement (hereinafter “ICE”) enforcement continues to hit record highs. The Agency has announced that it has served more than 5,200 I-9 audit notices to business owners across the country since January 2018. This was accomplished in two phases. From January to March, 2,540 notices were served, leading to 61 arrests. Then, in the five-day period from July 16 to July 20, 2,738 notices were served and 32 arrests were made.

Overall, since the beginning of the fiscal year (October 1, 2017), 6,093 worksite investigations were opened and 675 criminal and 984 administrative arrests were made. In the prior fiscal year, 1,716 worksite investigations were opened, 1,360 I-9 audits were accomplished and 139 criminal and 172 administrative arrests were made.

The more than threefold increase in investigations is in line with President Trump’s executive orders and is intended to “remind” employers that they must comply with the law.  Derek Benner, Acting Executive Director of Homeland Security Investigations stated: “Employers need to understand that the integrity of their employment records is just as important to the federal government as the integrity of their tax files and banking records. All industries, regardless of size, location and type are expected to comply with the law. Worksite enforcement protects jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, eliminates unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce, and strengthen[s] public safety and national security.”

While investigations are taking place all across the country, California continues to be a particular target for the Administration. The Department of Justice (hereinafter “DOJ”) filed a lawsuit in March alleging that federal law preempted at least part of California’s sanctuary laws. The court found in the DOJ’s favor. It held that the California law discriminated “against California employers who wish to cooperate with immigration officials enforcing the 1986 Immigration Reforms and Control Act (IRCA), which requires employers to verify the identify and work eligibility of individuals they hire.”


Preparing for possible ICE investigations is the best offense in this environment.

9th Circuit Rules White House Can’t Withhold Money from Sanctuary Cities

President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court on August 1, 2018.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that federal funding could be withheld only with congressional authorization. The appeals court also noted that the U.S. District Court went too far by blocking the policy nationwide, and sent back the case for “reconsideration and further findings.”

“We conclude that, under the principle of Separation of Powers and in consideration of the Spending Clause, which vests exclusive power to Congress to impose conditions on federal grants, the Executive Branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization,” a three-member panel of the 9th Circuit said in its 2-to-1 ruling.

President Trump signed an executive order in January 2017 that dealt with interior immigration enforcement. The 9th Circuit ruled against a provision that limited funding to jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement — also known as sanctuary cities.

The executive order focused on a federal statute that prohibits federal, state and local officials from restricting the sharing of information related to an individual’s immigration or citizenship status. While the appeals court didn’t rule on that statute, U.S.C. 1373, a Chicago-based federal judge in late July found it unconstitutional in separate lawsuit over withholding of federal grants over immigration enforcement. That ruling was limited to the city of Chicago, the plaintiff in the case.

The Justice Department issued a statement condemning the ruling as a “victory for criminal aliens in California” and said the department will continue to be committed to “keeping criminal aliens off the streets.”

Redefining “Public Charge” and the Threat to Non-Citizens

The administration is expected to publish a proposed regulation soon that would radically alter the way United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereinafter “USCIS”) officers screen applicants for lawful permanent residence for inadmissibility due to public charge. Rather than focusing on the petitioning sponsor’s income as reported on the affidavit of support, the agency would turn its attention to the adjustment of status applicant and any dependent family members. The officers would scrutinize the intending immigrant’s current and estimated income, job history, job skills, health status, assets, and any family history of public benefits receipt.

In January of 2018, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual to re-direct consular officers’ attention away from the sponsor and onto the immigrant visa applicant. But the USCIS proposed changes would go much further and mandate the consideration of specific non-cash benefit programs received by the applicant, the applicant’s children, or other dependents. The proposed regulation is under review at the Office of Management and Budget. It is unclear when it will be published to the Federal Register and opened for public comment. But our sources advise us that it is on a fast track. The following is a summary of the current rule and some of the more important changes that appear in the proposed rule.

The statute at INA § 212(a)(4) allows the USCIS and State Department to conclude that an immigrant visa or adjustment applicant is inadmissible if he or she “is likely at any time to become a public charge.” According to a 1999 agency memorandum, field guidance, and proposed rule, a non-citizen has become a public charge for inadmissibility or deportability purposes if he or she has become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either (i) the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or (ii) institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” 64 Fed. Reg. 28689 (May 26, 1999). The Service defined the term “public cash assistance for income maintenance” as including only three forms of benefits: (1) Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for the aged, blind, and disabled; (2) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance; and (3) state and local cash assistance programs, usually known as general relief or general assistance. p. 28692.

The proposed rule would vacate that interpretation and replace it with one that substantially broadens the term. An applicant would be inadmissible based on public charge if he or she “is likely at any time to use or receive one or more public benefits.” It also holds the intending immigrant accountable for any benefits received by children or other dependents who may have been legally entitled and even encouraged to receive them.

The following non-cash benefit programs received by the applicant or a dependent family member during the last three years would be a negative factor:

  • Subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act
  • Medicaid (non-emergency services)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)
  • State Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP or SCHIP)
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Housing assistance
  • Energy benefits, and
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (when it exceeds tax liability).

The statute at INA § 212(a)(4) requires the consideration of the intending immigrant’s (1) age, (2) health, (3) family status, (4) assets, resources, and financial status, and (5) education and skills. But after implementation of the affidavit of support requirements, which is a sixth factor, the USCIS and State Department currently concentrate on the sponsor’s income and ability to support the applicant. The proposed rule contemplates a new form that would capture additional information and supporting documentation from the intending immigrant. The applicant would likely be required to identify and document employment history, education and training, current and prior income, any offers of employment, health conditions that would affect employability, enrollment in unsubsidized health insurance, and assets or resources.

Any of the following will be considered a “heavily weighted negative factor” if the applicant:

  • Is of employable age, authorized to work, but currently unemployed
  • Has no employment history or reasonable prospect of future employment
  • Is currently receiving public benefits
  • Has received public benefits for more than six months during the last three years
  • Has a costly medical condition and has no unsubsidized health insurance or other apparent means of paying the costs of treatment, or
  • Has a spouse or parent who is the principal beneficiary and who has been found inadmissible based on public charge.
  • Either of the following will be considered a “heavily weighted positive factor” if the applicant:
  • Is a healthy person of employable age with financial assets, resources, and support of at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or
  • Is authorized to work, is gainfully employed, and has an income of at least 250 percent of poverty.

Nonimmigrants applying for a change of status or an extension of stay will also be subject to the new public charge standard. As part of the application and adjudication process, they will need to prove that they are not receiving nor are likely to receive public benefits.

At the present time, lawful permanent residents are potentially subject to the public charge ground of deportability, but such instances are almost nonexistent for a variety of reasons. In the draft of the proposed rule, the agency contemplates discussions with the Department of Justice to relax those conditions and make this a more viable basis to remove persons. It is unclear at this time how the agency intends to change the current standard and protections.

Senate Democrats Unveil Bill to Reunite Immigrant Families

On July 17, 2018, Democratic senators unveiled a new family reunification bill that they said would “immediately” reunite the 2,600 immigrant children still separated from their parents as a result of the White House’s zero-tolerance enforcement policy.

The measure would “ensure that never again will the United States government have the ability or the power to separate children from their parents in the way that has been done”, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), a sponsor of the bill, said at a press conference.

Harris introduced the bill alongside senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). The senators said their visits to detention facilities along the border helped inform the legislation.

“Three weeks ago, I traveled to the US-Mexico border in an attempt to gain access to the facilities where the Trump adminstration is holding immigrant children. While I was prohibited from entering these child-detention facilities, I did have the opportunity to speak to detained immigrant parents,” said Cortez Masto. “I promised them that I would do everything in my power to reunite them with their children. I’m introducing this bill to make good on that promise.”

Under public backlash, President Trump reversed his administration’s policy and halted family separations. But federal agencies have struggled to reunite families, a process that has become increasingly difficult as parents are deported.

Last month a judge gave the Trump administration a July 10, 2018 deadline to reunite all children under five (5) with their parents. The administration missed that deadline but said that it had reunified all eligible young children. Still, nearly half of the 103 young children remain separated from their parents because the parents have been deported, because of established safety concerns, or a for handful of other reasons.

The administration faced a July 26, 2018 deadline to reunite the older children who remain in the government’s care. A federal judge has temporarily halted deportations of reunited migrant families to allow time for the court to consider the impact on the child’s right to seek asylum.

The Democrats’ bill would codify some of what has been ordered by courts but would go further to address some of the challenges to reunifications, which included parents not being able to afford the cost of transportation to bring their children back to them and a lack of coordination between agencies.

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Require the departments of homeland security and health and human services to publish guidance on how they plan to reunify families
  • Allow for the release of parents of separated children so that the reunifications do not happen in detention
  • Ensure children have access to legal counsel
  • Restore a case management program for asylum seekers that was ended last year
  • Establish a presumption that parents are not deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is complete
  • Protect privacy around the use of DNA testing

Congress has so far failed to pass any immigration reform measures despite bipartisan opposition to Trump’s family separation policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a Republican, have been working on a measure that would limit family separation but those negotiations are ongoing.

Potential Impact of USCIS Update to Notice to Appear Policy

IU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereinafter “USCIS”) issued updated guidance on July 5, 2018 that aligns its policy for issuing Form I-862, Notice to Appear, with the immigration enforcement priorities of the Department of Homeland Security (hereinafter “DHS”).

A Notice to Appear (hereinafter “NTA”) is a document given to an alien that instructs them to appear before an immigration judge on a certain date. The issuance of an NTA commences removal proceedings against the alien. Under the new guidance, USCIS officers will now issue an NTA for a wider range of cases where the individual is removable and there is evidence of fraud, criminal activity, or where an applicant is denied an immigration benefit and is unlawfully present in the United States.

“For too long, USCIS officers uncovering instances of fraudulent or criminal activity have been limited in their ability to help ensure U.S. immigration laws are faithfully executed. This updated policy equips USCIS officers with clear guidance they need and deserve to support the enforcement priorities established by the president, keep our communities safe, and protect the integrity of our immigration system from those seeking to exploit it,” said USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and requestors are exempted from this updated guidance when: (1) processing an initial or renewal DACA request or DACA-related benefit request; or (2) processing a DACA recipient for possible termination of DACA. As explained in the concurrently issued DACA-specific guidance, USCIS will continue to apply the 2011 NTA guidlance to these cases. USCIS will also continue to follow the existing DACA information-sharing policy regarding any information provided by a DACA requestor in a DACA request or DACA-related benefit request.

USCIS, along with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (hereinafter “ICE”) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (hereinafter “CBP”), has legal authority under current immigration laws to issue NTAs. This Policy Memorandum updates the guidelines USCIS officers use to determine when to refer a case to ICE or to issue an NTA. The revised policy generally requires USCIS to issue an NTA in the following categories of cases in which the individual is removable:

  • Cases where fraud or misrepresentation is substantiated, and/or where an applicant abused any program related to the receipt of public benefits. USCIS will issue an NTA even if the case is denied for reasons other than fraud.
  • Criminal cases where an applicant is convicted of or charged with a criminal offense, or has committed acts that are chargeable as a criminal offense, even if the criminal conduct was not the basis for the denial or the ground of removability. USCIS may refer cases involving serious criminal activity to ICE before adjudication of an immigration benefit request pending before USCIS without issuing an NTA.
  • Cases in which USCIS denies a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, on good moral character grounds because of a criminal offense.
  • Cases in which, upon the denial of an application or petition, an applicant is unlawfully present in the United States.

The revised policy does not change the USCIS policy for issuing an NTA in the following categories:

  • Cases involving national security concerns;
  • Cases where issuing an NTA is required by statute or regulation;
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) cases, except where, after applying TPS regulatory provisions, a TPS denial or withdrawal results in an individual having no other lawful immigration status;
  • DACA recipients and requestors when: (1) processing an initial or renewal DACA request or DACA-related benefit request; or (2) processing a DACA recipient for possible termination of DACA.

Under the prior policy, if you filed a change of status (hereinafter “COS”) or extension of status (hereinafter “EOS”), and that COS or EOS was ultimately denied, in most cases you would be out of status (because it takes USCIS forever to adjudicate COS and EOS petitions). The petitioner would be expected to depart at that point, but the Administration would not automatically initiate removal proceedings against the now out-of-status petitioner. Under the new policy, if the petitioner is (or appears to be) out of status because the prior status had expired before the COS or EOS is adjudicated, or because the reason for the denial suggests that the prior status should be revoked, the petitioner will no longer be allowed to depart voluntarily, but will instead be automatically placed in removal proceedings.

In cases where the petition is denied before the prior status has expired, and the reason for denial does not suggest that the prior status should be terminated, no NTA should be issued.

H-1B admittees who have, in general, departed after a denial of an EOS anyway because their employers are no longer willing to employ them at this point (they face severe fines if they do), and so they pretty much had to leave. As such, it will be harder for an H-1B holder to survive a job loss event—something that it has been hard for H-1Bs to survive for some time anyway.

However, this new policy may increase the number of people who acquire five-year bans under INA 212(a)(6)(B).  Specifically, if a person voluntarily departs the United States while out of status for less than 180 days, they do not acquire any ban on returning to the United States. However, a person who departs the United States after receiving an NTA without appearing at the scheduled hearing or negotiating a voluntary departure in lieu of the hearing is subject to an automatic five-year ban on reentry.

New USCIS Policy Makes it Easier to Refuse Visa Application without RFE

On July 13, 2018, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereinafter “USCIS”) introduced a new policy memo into circulation that makes it easier for USCIS adjudicators to deny an application (including but not limited to foreign workers, H1B) without first having to issue a request for evidence (hereinafter “RFE”) or even a notice of intent to deny (hereinafter “NOID”).

This updated guidance goes into effect September 11, 2018 and will reverse previous guidance that allowed USCIS adjudicators to deny cases only when there was no possibility that the application could be corrected on an iterative basis.

USCIS director Francis Cissna said the memo is an “overdue policy change” that restores “full discretion to our immigration officers to deny incomplete and ineligible applications”.  “For too long, our immigration system has been bogged down with frivolous or meritless claims that slow down processing for everyone, including legitimate petitioners.”

Additionally, on June 28, 2018, USCIS introduced another policy memo which could potentially put H-1B workers into deportation proceedings even while he or she is challenging a denial.  In response, immigration lawyer, Cyrus Mehta stated “USCIS has deliberately made it more difficult to win H-1Bs, so under new cynical NTA policy if an H-1B extension is arbitrarily denied after expiration of prior H-1B status, the skilled worker could be placed in deportation proceedings even while challenging the denial”.  Attorney Mehta suggests H-1B extension petitions should be filed well in advance of the expiry date – the law allows six (6) months prior – so that a decision or general tilt is known while the applicant is still in status.

Read together, the memos can potentially put any foreign worker including H-1B into a lock step.

USCIS says the new policy is intended to discourage frivolous or substantially incomplete filings used as “placeholder” filings and encourage applicants, petitioners, and requestors to be diligent in collecting and submitting required evidence. It is not intended to penalize filers for innocent mistakes or misunderstandings of evidentiary requirements.


U.S. Army Quietly Discharging Immigrant Recruits

The Associated Press (hereinafter (“AP”) has reported that some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged.  While the AP was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through the special recruitment program have been removed from the Army, immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable, jeopardizing their futures.

Some of the service members say they were not told why they were being discharged. Others who pressed for answers said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Spokespeople for the Pentagon and the Army said that, due to pending litigation, they were unable to explain the discharges or respond to questions about whether there have been policy changes in any of the military branches.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Most go the Army, but some also go to the other military branches.

To become citizens, the service members need an honorable service designation, which can come after even just a few days at boot camp. But the recently discharged service members have had their basic training delayed, so they can’t be naturalized.  Additionally, immigration attorneys told the AP that many immigrants let go in recent weeks were an “uncharacterized discharge,” neither dishonorable nor honorable.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said she’s been inundated over the past several days by recruits who have been abruptly discharged.  All had signed enlistment contracts and taken an Army oath, Ms. Stock said. Many were reservists who had been attending unit drills, receiving pay and undergoing training, while others had been in a “delayed entry” program, she said.  “Immigrants have been serving in the Army since 1775,” Stock said. “We wouldn’t have won the revolution without immigrants. And we’re not going to win the global war on terrorism today without immigrants.”

Non-U.S. citizens have served in the military since the Revolutionary War, when Continental soldiers included Irish, French and Germans. The U.S. recruited Filipino nationals to serve in the Navy in the 1940s, and worked to enlist Eastern Europeans in the military over the next decade, according to the Defense Department.  Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military, according to the Defense Department.

Army reservist Lucas Calixto, a Brazilian immigrant who resides in Massachusetts and came to the US when he was 12-years-old, filed a lawsuit in Washington D.C. against the Army alleging the Defense Department hadn’t given him a chance to defend himself or appeal. He said he was given no specific grounds other than “personnel security.”

In a statement, the Defense Department said: “All service members (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation.”

President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers in 2002 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.  It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.  The Trump Administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process had their contracts canceled. A few months later, the military suspended MAVNI.  Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, who has supported legislation to limit the program, told the AP that MAVNI was established by executive order and never properly authorized by Congress.  “Our military must prioritize enlisting American citizens, and restore the MAVNI program to its specialized, limited scope,” he said.


Federal Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers

On July 2, 2018, a federal court blocked the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers fleeing persecution, torture, or death in their countries of origin. It also ordered a case-by-case review of whether each asylum seeker in the class-action lawsuit should be released on humanitarian parole. The ruling stems from a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, Human Rights First, and Covington & Burling LLP.

Government policy stipulates that asylum seekers be granted humanitarian parole as they await their immigration proceedings, provided they meet a series of stringent requirements. Instead, the Trump administration has categorically jailed them indefinitely, in violation of the Constitution, U.S. immigration laws, and the Department of Homeland Security’s own written policy.

“This ruling means the Trump administration cannot use indefinite detention as a weapon to punish and deter asylum seekers,” said Michael Tan, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The lawsuit targets five (5) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (hereinafter “ICE”) field offices that have almost entirely stopped granting parole since early 2017. Those offices are Detroit (which covers Michigan and Ohio), El Paso (which covers New Mexico and West Texas), Los Angeles, Newark (which covers New Jersey), and Philadelphia (which covers Pennsylvania).

All the plaintiffs passed credible fear screenings — meaning a U.S. asylum officer has determined their fear of persecution is credible, and that they have a significant possibility of receiving full asylum. More than 1,000 asylum seekers are estimated to have been denied parole in those five ICE districts alone.

“Today’s decision will have an enormous impact on asylum seekers, who pose no risk, and are currently languishing in detention. It is a rejection of the Trump administration’s blanket policy of denying parole to those seeking seeking protection in this country. We hope that our clients and those like them will no longer be wrongly held in prison-like conditions,” said Human Rights First’s Legal Director Hardy Vieux.

Named plaintiff Ansly Damus — an ethics teacher from Haiti — has been locked up in Ohio for more than a year-and-a-half. Damus committed no crime. Rather, he had spoken out against a government official and was then forced to flee violent, political persecution. When he arrived in the U.S., he presented himself to immigration authorities and requested asylum. He passed his credible fear interview and was granted asylum by a judge — not once, but twice. Despite that, he has remained behind bars while the government appealed his grants of asylum. The Trump administration had put Damus behind bars indefinitely alongside thousands of other asylum seekers like him. ICE has not allowed him outside even once in over a year.

“I have not breathed fresh air or felt the sun on my face, and I never know if it is cold or hot outside, if the sun is out, and if the seasons are changing,” Damus said when the lawsuit was filed.

“The United States has long recognized its moral and legal obligation to protect refugees, including the right to seek asylum. People fleeing persecution should never be locked away just for asserting this right. Today’s decision recognizes that asylum seekers deserve compassion and the protection of our laws, not punishment,” said Eunice Lee, co-legal director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

The case, Damus v. Nielsen, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. It names the Department of Homeland Security (hereinafter “DHS”) and the Department of Justice (hereinafter “DOJ”) as defendants.

The ruling can be found at: