When Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Florida arrested a Venezuelan man during an asylum hearing in April 2017, Sen. Marco Rubio intervened to secure his release. The case drew widespread media attention because individuals being taken into custody at courthouses and immigration was rare, but this kind of arrest has now become worryingly common according to immigrant advocacy groups.
The Immigrant Defense Project reported in November 2017 that courthouse arrests in large cities like New York were up by 900 percent, and a San Francisco television station ran a story on Feb. 9 about a Sudanese man who had been seized as he explained to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials how he would face persecution if sent back to his home country. The man's attorney told reporters that his client had no criminal record and had been detained for no reason.
According to ICE, the man was taken into custody for violating the terms of his temporary visa. Records indicate that the man had been granted permission to enter the United States in 2014. Officials also say that the man faces criminal charges in the United Arab Emirates, but no details were immediately forthcoming about what sort of crime he is accused of committing. Advocacy groups say that a slow bureaucratic process and a pending cases list that now has more than 311,000 names on it are to blame for the long delays that often cause asylum seekers to overstay their visas.
While experienced immigration attorneys may not be able to speed up the review process for those fleeing war or political upheaval in their home countries, they could help them to prepare for their asylum interviews. Attorneys may also work to ensure that asylum seekers retain their legal status while they wait for their cases to be heard.