From 124 to Zero: Final asylum seekers released from Sheridan
November 26 was a milestone in the Trump Administration’s failed experiment to incarcerate over 100 asylum seekers in a federal prison in Oregon. On that day, a judge heard the final asylum claims for the last two men still incarcerated at Sheridan.
To recap: in May 2018, the Trump Administration dropped more than 100 men who were seeking asylum into the Sheridan prison. The Trump Administration had already ordered all of the men deported and intended to deport them as quickly as possible and as secretly as possible. The administration prevented anyone detained inside from calling out for help; prevented everyone on the outside from getting in to provide help. The Trump Administration was experimenting with the U.S. Constitution by pretending it did not exist. The Law Lab promised to represent everyone at Sheridan; the Trump Administration protested and so the Law Lab sued. A federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to let the lawyers in. So the lawyers and legal advocates went in. And then what happened is that the law, the U.S. Constitution and all of the rules and rights that matter for liberty and democracy and the rule of law, mattered again.
None of the the Trump Administration’s inflammatory rhetoric proved to be true. The Trump Administration’s tweets that demonized these men were plainly false. Once lawyers got access, they were able to prove that each of these individuals were fleeing violence. Indeed, every person incarcerated at Sheridan and represented by the Innovation Law Lab was found to have a bona fide claim for asylum, or, in the words of the law, each individual had a substantially likelihood of winning asylum if only given a chance before a judge.
The Trump Administration’s rationale for incarcerating these individuals was largely illusory. The lawyers went to court and in the coming months, 96% of the men would be released on bond. Oregonians rallied together to raise over $22,000, which secured the release of four men whose families and friends did not have the ability to pay their bonds.
The way the system of justice is supposed to work is that we resolve disputes in court. Judges are supposed to hear testimony and review evidence. There is supposed to be examination and cross-examination. And then, good people who do, in the words of the Chief Justice of the United States, their level best to get the law and the facts right to make the best decision that can be made. That’s the way it is supposed to work.
And what happened on November 26? Exactly that. The Law Lab presented its best cases for its final two detained clients. The government presented its best case. And a judge heard both sides, considered the law and the claims and everything that was at stake.
In one case, the judge immediately granted asylum at the conclusion of the hearing. In the other case, the asylum seeker has been transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to await the judge’s decision.