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Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and 30 other national and international immigrant and human rights organizations, think tanks, and academics have petitioned the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue regulations allowing the release of detained asylum seekers who pose no danger to the community and would face persecution if returned to their home countries.

In a petition to DHS, the petitioners call on the agency to create enforceable rules which establish a presumption that asylum seekers who pass a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer and have no criminal history should be released from immigration detention. In a second petition to DOJ, the groups ask Attorney General Eric Holder to allow immigration judges to release asylum seekers who fulfill these requirements. The proposed regulations build on asylum parole guidelines released by DHS in December 2009.

“There is no reason for asylum seekers who have credible fear and are not dangers to their communities to be detained,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. “We are requesting that immigration judges be given the authority to release asylum seekers from detention, allowing them better access to the lawyers, documentation, and information they need to have a meaningful day in court.”

While the December 2009 DHS asylum parole guidelines are a significant improvement over previous guidelines, the new guidelines continue to place an unfair burden on detained asylum seekers. For example, asylum seekers who have just arrived in the United States are required to present evidence of ties to the community as proof that they are not a flight risk.

“Justice is not served when the U.S. government responds to a person fleeing persecution in another land by locking her up,” McCarthy said. “The decision about whether an asylum seeker can have the opportunity to pursue her case outside of detention will be a significant factor in whether she is able to present a successful case. That decision should not fall solely on one immigration officer. It is incumbent upon DHS to create fair and enforceable guidelines that are upheld consistently by DHS officers across the country.”


DHS 2009 Asylum Parole Guidelines

Petition co-signers:

National Immigrant Justice Center
The Advocates for Human Rights
The American Friends Service Committee
American Gateways
Amnesty International
Asian American Justice Center
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
The Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center
Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Immigration Equality
Jubilee Campaign USA
The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Midwest Coalition for Human Rights
The Northwest Immigrant Rights’ Project
Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center
Physicians for Human Rights
The University of California-Davis Immigration Law Clinic
Professor Deborah Anker
Sabrineh Ardalan
Professor Regina Germain
Clinical Professor Denise Gilman
Clinical Professor Barbara Hines
Nancy Kelly
Eunice Lee
John Willshire-Carrera
Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia


Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit