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On April 16th, the Trump administration delivered a harsh blow to immigrant rights in the U.S. The administration has already faced unending criticism about its harsh immigration policies — key administration members have even been forced out due to conflicts over this topic — and with this most recent ruling, the flames of this debate won’t be likely to die down any time soon.
In a ruling that vastly expands the already controversial policy of indefinite immigrant detention, recently appointed U.S. Attorney General William Barr struck down a provision that allowed some asylum seekers to request bond in front of an immigration judge. Immigrants already often wait months or even years for their cases to be heard, and they wait this time out in detention centers that many say exist in unlivable conditions. Under Barr’s ruling, these waiting periods are likely to get even longer.
Barr’s ruling is his first immigration court ruling since President Trump appointed him as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ replacement (but this is far from Barr’s first time in the spotlight). His decision falls in line with the Trump administration’s longstanding hard line on policies controlling — or outright banning — the influx of tens of thousands of Central Americans seeking asylum and refuge in the U.S. The Justice Department, which the Attorney General heads, oversees all American immigration courts, meaning that Barr’s ruling will prove massively impactful once implemented.
To prepare the Department of Homeland Security and its many immigration detention facilities for the potential influx of detainees resulting from this ruling, Barr has delayed the ruling’s implementation date by 90 days. It is not yet immediately clear how large such a detainee influx would be, because the DHS is still determining the capacity it has to house more detainees. This capacity vagueness may have an outsized influence on whether immigrants are kept in detention or released.
According to Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, Barr’s ruling could cause decisions about keeping immigrants captive to be based not on their individual cases but instead on whether the DHS has enough space to accommodate them in detention centers. The DHS may have implicitly acknowledged this potential direction in one of its briefs filed in the case on which Barr ruled. In this brief, the DHS said that the full-scale elimination of bond hearings would have an “immediate and significant” effect on its immigrant detention operations.
As current policy goes, any migrants who enter the U.S. illegally and are captured within 100 miles of a land border enter “expedited removal” proceedings. This faster form of deportation applies solely to immigrants who have arrived in the U.S. within two weeks of their detainment. Immigrants who ask for asylum upon their appearance at ports of entry to the U.S. do not qualify for bond.
Unaccompanied migrant children are exempt from expedited removal proceedings, so Barr’s ruling will have no impact on them. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) nevertheless announced its intention to sue the Trump administration over Attorney General Barr’s decision.