Families Divided

The Trump administration's “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of children from adults who crossed the border illegally, has fueled a national outcry. Sign up for our ongoing coverage. Send story ideas to tips@texastribune.org.

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A federal district judge has ruled President Donald Trump’s administration’s practice of indefinitely detaining some asylum seekers can’t proceed, dealing a major blow to what immigration attorneys have said is one of the administration’s tools to deter people from seeking safe haven in this country.

The lawsuit was filed in March by the American Civil Liberties Union and named as a defendant the El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office. Other field offices named in the lawsuit include Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

The ACLU alleged in the lawsuit that the plaintiffs passed their initial "credible fear" exams – the first step in the asylum process to determine if an applicant has a legitimate case. But despite having sponsors willing to provide housing in the United States, the federal government has continued to hold them instead of granting them parole.

“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 protection in this country,” said Human Rights First Legal Director Hardy Vieux.

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The Texas Tribune's reporting on the Families Divided project is supported by the Pulitzer Center, which will also help bring discussions on this important topic to schools and universities in Texas and across the United States through its K-12 and Campus Consortium networks.

The plaintiffs in the case include a Cuban national who fled that country's communist regime; a Haitian ethics teacher fleeing political persecution; a Honduran national who alleges persecution for being gay; and a Venezuelan who was beaten by armed groups seeking "to eliminate opposition to the Venezuelan government." They are represented by the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, Human Rights First, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and Covington and Burling LLP, a law firm based in Washington, D.C. 

In his Monday ruling, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing the federal government from denying parole to any provisional class members that are a party to the lawsuit. The lawsuit defines them as “asylum seekers who traveled to the United States, were found to have a credible fear of persecution, and were referred for immigration proceedings to decide their asylum claims.” The exception applies to people who pose a flight risk or a danger to the community.

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