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'Liberty is the Rule': Federal Court Blocks Immigrant Detainment Policy

The government "cannot deprive individuals of their liberty merely to send a message to others," says ACLU

A federal judge ruled on Friday that the Obama administration cannot detain asylum seekers who are not 'flight risks.' (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr/cc)

A U.S. federal court on Friday put a temporary halt on the so-called "no release" policy to detain immigrants seeking asylum from violence in Central America.

The New York Times reports:

During the influx of migrants last summer, the Department of Homeland Security started holding most women who came with their children in detention centers in Texas and New Mexico, to discourage others in their home countries from embarking on an illegal passage to the United States. The women and children were detained even after they had asked for asylum and passed the initial test to prove their cases, showing they had credible fears of facing persecution if they were sent home. Their petitions for release were routinely denied.

The Obama administration's "incantation of the magic word 'national security' without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty," Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in his decision.

Boasberg's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the University of Texas. The civil liberties group launched the suit "on behalf of mothers and children who have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution in Central America and come to the U.S. for safety."

Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, stated, "The court held that it was illegal to detain families based on deterrence. It made clear that the government cannot deprive individuals of their liberty merely to send a message to others.

"This ruling means that the government cannot continue to lock up families without an individualized determination that they pose a danger or flight risk that requires their detention."

Denise Gilman, a University of Texas law professor who brought the lawsuit along with the ACLU, told the Times that federal authorities will now have to "look at individual cases rather than making these broad stroke determinations that moms and children should be deprived of their liberty in order to discourage future migrants from coming to the U.S. border."

The decision shows "liberty is the rule in the United States," she added.

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