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'Heartless Punishment Against Vulnerable People': AG William Barr Rules Asylum Seekers Can Be Detained Indefinitely

"Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime, and families forced to flee for their lives shouldn’t be treated like criminals."

Asylum seekers wait in line to receive breakfast outside a temporary shelter on November 24, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Attorney General William Barr late Tuesday reversed a previous Justice Department ruling that allowed asylum seekers to be released on bond, a move rights groups said could lead to the indefinite detention of thousands of immigrants.

"This is both a heartless punishment against vulnerable people, and a potential back-door way for the administration to separate families."
—Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International USA
"Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime, and families forced to flee for their lives shouldn't be treated like criminals," Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas advocacy director for Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

"This appalling decision could also force parents to decide to either be locked up with their children indefinitely, or relinquish custody of them for the duration of their approval process, which could take months or years," Krishnaswami added. "This is both a heartless punishment against vulnerable people, and a potential back-door way for the administration to separate families. This decision must be reversed."

Barr's ruling comes as President Donald Trump continues to ramp up his attack on the U.S. asylum system and hand more power over immigration policy to his xenophobic senior adviser Stephen Miller.

Prior to Barr's ruling, Reuters reported, "those who had crossed the border between official entry points and asked for asylum were eligible for bond, once they had proven to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution."

"Barr said such people can be held in immigration detention until their cases conclude, or if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to release them by granting them 'parole,'" according to Reuters.

Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the Immigrants Rights' Project at the ACLU, told the New York Times that the Trump administration is attempting to "send a message that you will get detained" if you seek refuge in the United States.

"We are talking about people who are fleeing for their lives, seeking safety," Rabinovitz said. "And our response is just lock them up."

Barr's order is set to go into effect in 90 days, and it is expected to face a flood of legal challenges.

On Twitter, the ACLU vowed to sue the administration.

"Attorney General William Barr tonight directed immigration judges to deny bond hearings to asylum seekers," the group tweeted. "Our Constitution does not allow the government to lock up asylum seekers without basic due process. We'll see the administration in court. Again."

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