U.S. revises detention policy for asylum-seekers

The U.S. said Wednesday it will stop detaining asylum seekers who have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary John Morton announced that ICE will generally release from detention arriving asylum seekers who have a credible fear of persecution or torture if certain criteria are met – part of ICE’s ongoing immigration detention reform efforts.

“ICE is committed to detention reform that ensures criminal and violent aliens remain in custody while establishing effective alternatives for non-violent, non-criminal detainees commensurate with the risk they present,” said Assistant Secretary Morton. “These new parole procedures for asylum seekers will help ICE focus both on protecting against major threats to public safety and implementing common-sense detention policies.”

The revised guidelines will be effective Jan. 4, 2010, will according to ICE will permit parole from detention – which temporarily authorizes aliens to enter the United States without being formally admitted or granted immigration status – of asylum-seekers arriving at U.S. ports of entry who establish their identities, pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, have a credible fear of persecution or torture, and have no additional factors that weigh against their release. The new guidelines also mandate that all such arriving asylum-seekers should automatically be considered for parole – a significant change from prior guidance that required asylum-seekers to request parole in writing.

In addition, the new policy adds heightened quality assurance safeguards, including monthly reporting by ICE field offices and headquarters analysis of parole rates and decision-making, as well as a review of compliance rates for paroled asylum-seekers.

U.S. immigration laws generally require immigrants who arrive in the United States without valid entry documents to be immediately removed without further hearing; however, arriving immigrants or asylum-seekers can pursue protection in the United States if they are first found by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer or an immigration judge to have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country.

When the policy becomes effective, USCIS asylum officers will explain the new process to new arrivals who have been determined to have a credible fear of persecution or torture, including providing information regarding appropriate documentation the asylum-seekers may provide to help establish their eligibility for release.

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