Staff and agencies
02 December, 2007
By SUZANNE GAMBOA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - More people seeking asylum in the U.S. could be detained and then jailed longer under a new Homeland Security Department policy for people wanting safe harbor.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Homeland Security Department, said it issued the new policy Nov. 6 to make detention rules for asylum seekers more consistent and clear. But refugee advocates say it sets tougher standards for asylum seekers to win parole from detention.
The U.S. generally grants safe harbor to refugees fleeing persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Last year, the country granted asylum to 26,113 people, according to Homeland Security Department statistics. Most were from China, followed by Haiti and Colombia.
A total of 5,252 people claimed to have a credible fear of persecution in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Sixty-three percent of those claims were handled by ICE‘s asylum office in Houston, according to Homeland Security Department statistics.
The numbers do not include Cubans requesting asylum because they are not placed in expedited removal.
The new policy says detention and removal officers also must decide whether the person is seriously ill, a juvenile, pregnant, a witness in judicial, administrative or legislative proceedings or whether detention of the person is not in the public interest. The policy does not define public interest.
In cases of people who requested asylum from deeper within the country — such as when a tourist visa ran out — an immigration judge can issue bond and order their release from detention.
Expedited removal was adopted to keep people in the country illegally from disappearing after being released on bond.
The agency chose not to define public interest to allow officers flexibility, she said. The policy also directs officers to collect information on parole denials and releases that will be collected monthly and analyzed.
"Rarely is there political will in existence to take a step back and say, ‘Maybe we shouldn‘t be doing this,‘" Bardavid said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found in a 2005 study mandated by Congress that the expedited removal policy puts people with legitimate asylum claims at risk of being returned to their home countries to be persecuted or tortured.
The commission also found asylum seekers were being jailed with criminals while they waited for a decision on their claims. In a follow-up study this year, the commission said little had changed.