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Human Rights Groups File Lawsuit Against DOJ on Detention of Asylum Seekers

For Immediate Release

Physiciansfor Human Rights (PHR) and eight partner organizations filed a lawsuit today againstthe US Department of Justice (DOJ) challenging its failure to issue regulationsthat would give immigration judges the authority to order the release of asylumseekers who are being held in immigration detention facilities.  

InMarch 2010, PHR and 30 immigrant and human rights organizations submitted apetition requesting the DOJ to issue regulations to permit immigration judgesto review the custody of detained asylum seekers. However, over the ensuing 21months, DOJ has failed to respond to the petition, prompting the groups to filea lawsuit against the agency in the US District Court for the Southern Districtof New York. At present, only agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) have the ability to release detained asylum seekers, and their decisionsare not reviewable in court.

“Asylum seekers come to the US to escape torture, abuse,and persecution in their own countries. Appallingly, when they arrive at theborder and ask for asylum they are locked away in jails, or jail-like detentioncenters, for indefinite periods of time without the opportunity for a custodyhearing before a judge,” said Christy Fujio, Director of PHR’s Asylum Program. “Manyof these asylum seekers already suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and other physical and emotional trauma as a result of the persecutionthey endured in their home countries. These preexisting conditions make themespecially vulnerable to the harmful effects of long-term and indefinitedetention. At the very least, they should be entitled to have an immigrationjudge determine whether they can safely be released from detention whilepursuing their asylum claims.”

While in custody, asylum seekers often do not haveaccess to medical care, including psychological and other specialized treatmentfor ailments stemming from abuse and torture. Such detention without appropriate medical care further exacerbates thetrauma that asylum seekers endure. 

“Despite Congress’clear intent to detain asylum seekers only in very limited and specificcircumstances, the DOJ has failed in its duty to provide a way for detainedasylum seekers to be released from detention while they are going through theasylum process,” said Fujio.

Underthe Administrative Procedures Act (APA), a party may petition a federal agencyfor the “issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule.” The APA further providesthat the DOJ respond to a rulemaking petition “within a reasonable time.” PHRand the other organizations joining the lawsuit argue that 21 months is not a“reasonable time” within the meaning of the APA, and are demanding that DOJissue regulations or explain their refusal to do so.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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