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Asylum seekers sue ICE after being held for nearly 2 years

Five asylum seekers are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They claim they have been imprisoned in violation of U.S. treaties and without due process -- some for as long as 20 months. They allege that the Trump administration is intentionally trying to deter legitimate asylum requests.

The U.S. signed the U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, and is therefore required to have laws in keeping with that treaty. Therefore, the Refugee Act of 1980 requires the U.S. to give safe haven to people who have a credible fear of certain types of persecution in their home nations. People in that situation can legally come to any U.S. port of entry to apply for asylum. When they do, they are to be sent immediately to an asylum officer for a preliminary interview about their credible fear of persecution.

The plaintiffs state they do have a credible fear of persecution but, instead of being granted asylum, they have been imprisoned at detention centers. The five plaintiffs come from Guatemala, Honduras, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Guinea.

What is official ICE policy? In 2009, an ICE directive told agents to grant parole to, instead of detaining, asylum seekers who could establish their identities and who did not present a danger to the community or a flight risk. However, when a 2014 surge of immigrants hit the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the lawsuit claims, ICE began to detain asylum seekers and refugees instead.

Eighty percent of asylum seekers who passed their initial "credible fear" in 2012 interviews were given parole, according to the nonprofit Human Rights First. In 2015, only 47 percent received parole. The rest were detained in prison-like conditions. The plaintiffs say this change violates U.S. and international law.

The nonprofit also claims that a Trump administration executive order has resulted in many asylum seekers being prosecuted for illegal entry. Asylum seekers are legally allowed to present themselves at the U.S. border.

Plaintiffs claim the legal process is not being followed

One woman who fled from Guatemala says she requested asylum in 2016. She was turned away without the "credible fear" interview that U.S. law requires.

She returned in 2017 -- this time with attorneys and human rights monitors with her. She was given her "credible fear" interview. She had no criminal history and was told she would be interviewed about parole eligibility. Instead, she was imprisoned without a parole interview and held for seven months.

"This miscarriage of justice occurs despite official agency policy favoring the grant of parole to ... asylum seekers who do not pose a flight risk or danger to the community," the lawsuit reads.

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