Women’s Refugee Commission Expresses Concern Over Mistreatment of Asylum Seekers

Washington, DC June 6, 2017 – As President Donald Trump’s hasty and indiscriminate deportation force continues to affect men and women throughout the United States, claims of asylum appear to be increasingly ignored or outright rejected, as corroborated by a New York Times report last month. In other cases, asylum seekers are treated as prisoners and held for months in detention centers.
The following are just two incidents in which the mishandling of asylum cases has put lives in danger, and signals a worrisome pattern for those fleeing violence.
  • In California, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has learned of two instances in which asylum-seeking men were about to be put on a plane to be deported, but were pulled off at the last moment due to a number of calls and emails by advocates to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding that the men have access to a Credible Fear Interview (CFI) as required by law. Both men were part of a Refugee Caravan in May and, after being detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), were subsequently held at the ICE Adelanto Detention Center. According to these men, they were forcibly removed from their cells around 1:30 AM on Wednesday, May 31st. They said that they had requested a CFI and expressed to ICE authorities on multiple occasions prior to that morning that they wished to seek asylum and were afraid of returning to their home country, El Salvador. ICE officers ignored these requests, told the two men that they had no right to asylum, and proceeded to handcuff them. When they arrived in Los Angeles, ICE officers pulled them aside from the rest of the group and said, “Do you have a lawyer? If you don’t, you’re getting deported right now.” Luckily, they did. These two asylum-seeking individuals were removed from the group about to be deported so that they could have a credible fear interview, only after intervention by attorneys. WRC is concerned that this outcome may have only been as a result of the pressure exerted by advocates specifically around these two cases. WRC notes, with great concern, that according to these men, many other migrants who were put on the plane this past Wednesday expressed fear, yet their claims were ignored and they were deported anyway.
According to Leah Chavla, Program Officer at WRC:
“This event clearly shows the gaps to accessing protection in the United States, and it also clearly represents a black hole in accountability for U.S. immigration officials. There is little oversight of CBP and ICE agents’ decisions, especially at these early stages when a person has arrived recently, and no way to effectively ensure that CBP or ICE will identify a person as an asylum seeker and refer him or her to the appropriate process. Deporting asylum seekers without examining their claims and without due process is against the law and may have severe and life-threatening consequences.”
  • At the Karnes Family Detention Center in Texas, Samira Hakimi, an Afghan mother, attempted suicide last month. Samira Hakimi was detained with her with her two young children for approximately six months, despite having been found to have a credible fear of return to Afghanistan – along with her sister in law, Nazifa, and Nazifa’s ten-month-old baby – where she and her family fled the Taliban. Though Samira Hakimi has since been released due to the aid of legal intervention, her sister-in-law and her baby remain in custody. The detention of mothers and children has long been documented to be traumatic and inhibits the ability of families fleeing harm and persecution from receiving adequate support with their asylum case. In fact, Women’s Refugee Commission has for years documented that there is no humane way to detain families. DHS continues to detain families and is winding down the use of effective alternatives for families despite countless calls from lawmakers to end the practice and the recommendations of a DHS-appointed expert advisory committee, the Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers, to move away from the detention of families. Family detention costs the U.S. taxpayer over $300 per person each day they are in detention, despite the availability of options that cost far less. Alternatives include releasing families directly to family members in the community in the United States, or placement in the Family Case Management Program, an alternative to detention program implemented last year specifically targeted toward families who may need additional support as they navigate their immigration case.
According to Katharina Obser, Senior Program Officer at the WRC:
“It is a national disgrace that we continue to lock up mothers and their children in these inhumane conditions. ICE should release the rest of Samira’s family immediately, and finally end the costly and traumatizing practice of detaining families. Numerous experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as DHS’s own advisory committee on family detention have called for the end of this practice that traumatizes children and violates our obligations under law. To have punished Samira and others like her by separating her from her husband and locking her up with her children is unconscionable, especially when the family is already traumatized from the harm they fled in their home country.”