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Damus v. Wolf

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Case Status: 
Issue Area: 

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:18-cv-00578-JEB

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it? 

Asylum seekers who arrive at the U.S. border are eligible to be considered for release from detention (parole) once they establish that they have a credible fear of persecution. According to its own parole policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is required to conduct an individualized assessment of whether each asylum seeker is a flight risk or poses a danger to the community. However, once the Trump administration took office, many ICE offices began violating the agency’s own parole policy by issuing blanket denials to nearly all asylum seekers, forcing them to remain in detention even if they meet the requirements for release.

We are fighting ICE’s actions because seeking asylum is a legal right, and it is inhumane and unnecessary to detain asylum seekers.

What is at stake? 

Named plaintiff Ansly Damus, an ethics teacher from Haiti, had been locked up in Ohio for more than a year and a half when we filed suit. Mr. Damus had spoken out against a government official and was then forced to flee violent political persecution. When he arrived in the United States, he presented himself to immigration authorities and requested asylum. He passed his credible fear interview and was granted asylum by a judge — not once, but twiceDespite that, he remained behind bars while the government appealed his grants of asylum until attorneys were able to secure his release through a separate court action. The Trump administration has put thousands of asylum seekers, like Mr. Damus, in indefinite detention. But, unlike Mr. Damus, many are not able to secure an attorney to assist in securing their release.  

What’s the status of this case? 

We filed a class action lawsuit in March 2018 against ICE for violating its own parole policy by failing to provide individualized parole determinations and instead issuing blanket denials at five field offices, and we won a preliminary injunction in July 2018.

Because ICE failed to live up to the terms of the preliminary injunction, in February 2020 the court granted in part our motion for contempt and ordered the Los Angeles Field Office to implement training, quality assurance measures and individualized explanations for parole denials. The parties have filed motions for summary judgment, and litigation is ongoing.

Who’s involved? 

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, and Covington & Burling LLP.

How can you help? 

Take the #WelcomeWithDignity pledge and join our movement to defend the right to seek asylum. You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information? 

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Manager, at krongbrianna@uclawsf.edu for more information.

Resources for Advocates 

Practice Advisory, Damus v. Nielsen: Parole of Arriving Asylum Seekers Who Have Passed Credible Fear, from CGRS, the ACLU, and Human Rights First (August 10, 2018)

Practice Advisory (Spanish), Damus v. Nielsen: Libertad Condicional para Recientes Solicitantes de Asilo que Tienen un Miedo Creible, from CGRS, the ACLU, and Human Rights First (August 10, 2018) 

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