Recently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did something that’s become very rare under the Trump administration: it granted humanitarian parole to an asylum-seeker with severe disabilities detained at a remote detention center in Louisiana.
Manuel Amaya Portillo, who suffers from severe congenital physical disabilities, experienced inexcusable discrimination and abuse while in detention. When we intervened in his case, Amaya Portillo was being held at Winn Correctional Facility, where for the first two months he was never given a wheelchair or accessible housing.
Amaya Portillo’s release is good news, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are thousands more asylum-seekers suffering from brutal conditions in remote detention centers across the state, many of whom are held in facilities run by private, for-profit operators.
Seeking asylum is a legal right, and ICE’s own policy says asylum-seekers who satisfy the legal requirements should be released while their case proceeds. But under the Trump administration, release approvals for asylum-seekers have dropped sharply, especially in Louisiana. In 2016, the ICE New Orleans Field Office granted parole in 75.5% of cases. By 2018, that number had dropped to just 1.5%.
Over the past year, Louisiana has gone from being the prison capital of the world to a detention capital, holding the country’s second-largest population of immigrant detainees. Beds left empty by criminal justice reform are now filled with immigrant detainees, pointing to the true motive of the mass detention machine: profit.
At the ACLU, we’re determined to fight this cruel betrayal of our values and defend the rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers. In September, working alongside the Southern Poverty Law Center, we won a ruling forcing DHS to restore access to parole to asylum-seekers who lawfully present themselves at the border.
Today, all of us have a solemn obligation to stand up and speak out against this injustice. This war on asylum-seekers and refugees is an affront to our values and a violation of basic human rights.
Let’s not wait for history to judge. Together, we can prove that America is still the land of the free that’s capable of delivering on the hopeful promise inscribed on our Statue of Liberty.
Countless human lives — and America’s moral leadership in the world — depend on it.
Alanah Odoms Hebert
ACLU of Louisiana