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Advocates prepare legal battle against order denying bail to asylum seekers

SF Gate logo SF Gate 4/18/2019 By Tatiana Sanchez
a man standing in front of a truck: FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2018, file photo, Honduran asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents after the group crossed the U.S. border wall into San Diego, Calif., seen from Tijuana, Mexico. Detained asylum seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country will no longer be able to ask a judge to grant them bond. U.S. Attorney General William Barr decided Tuesday, April 16, 2019, that asylum seekers who clear a "credible fear" interview and are facing removal don't have the right to be released on bond while their cases are pending and will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated.  (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File) © Provided by Hearst Newspapers FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2018, file photo, Honduran asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents after the group crossed the U.S. border wall into San Diego, Calif., seen from Tijuana, Mexico. Detained asylum seekers who have shown they have a credible fear of returning to their country will no longer be able to ask a judge to grant them bond. U.S. Attorney General William Barr decided Tuesday, April 16, 2019, that asylum seekers who clear a "credible fear" interview and are facing removal don't have the right to be released on bond while their cases are pending and will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

A new government order that would prohibit some asylum seekers from posting bail as they await a decision in their cases has infuriated immigration advocates throughout the country who claim it’s a violation of their constitutional rights.

The policy, announced Tuesday by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, would keep asylum seekers with credible fear claims in ICE detention for months or even years, until their cases are resolved.

Advocates say the order could impact more than 15,000 asylum seekers, though exact numbers aren’t clear.

“Its devastating,” said Michael Tan, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York. “There are thousands of asylum seekers who, prior to this decision, had been getting bond hearings before an immigration judge.”

The ACLU said it plans to sue the administration, arguing the policy — which goes into effect in 90 days — violates immigrants’ constitutional rights.

“A bedrock principle of our country is that you can’t take people’s freedom away without due process of law,” Tan said. “The most fundamental aspect of due process is the right to go before a judge to determine if you will be locked up or not.”

Immigrants determined to have a credible fear of persecution are typically allowed to request a bond hearing where a judge determines if they can be released on bail as they wait for their cases to be resolved.

But in a written decision Tuesday, Barr directed immigration judges not to release immigrants on bail once their cases are approved for expedited removal proceedings, a status granted to asylum seekers after they’ve successfully established a credible claim of fear or persecution in their home country.

Typically, an asylum seeker who crosses between ports of entry would have the right to ask a judge to grant them bond for release. Under the new ruling, they will have to wait in detention until their case is adjudicated, the Associated Press reported.

“I’m shocked that this is just another attempt at further trying to discourage or deter legitimate asylum seekers,” said Bill Hing, a longtime social justice advocate and director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco. “Mandatory detention is for people who commit crimes and who are suspected terrorists. There’s not a statute that requires detention for these folks.”

It’s the latest push by the Trump administration to end “catch and release” policies and deter undocumented immigrants from seeking asylum at the border. President Trump recently threatened to shut down the border and cut off aid to Central American countries and suggests the government “get rid of the whole asylum system.”

The president has also accused some migrants of faking credible fear interviews and criticized those who support asylum seekers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday said Barr’s order will roll back the progress the U.S. has made to protect vulnerable populations over the last several decades.

“Vulnerable individuals and families who face horrific conditions should be welcomed in our country, not turned away or locked up,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Attorney General Barr’s decision will have a brutal effect on refugees, some of whom will now be detained for years before they have their day in court. This policy stands in sharp contrast to the due process protections enshrined in the Constitution.”

Tatiana Sanchez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: tatiana.sanchez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @TatianaYSanchez

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