A group of 20 Chaldean Christians who are seeking political asylum in
the U.S. after fleeing Iraq under the threat of persecution have been
held at the Otay Detention Facility for at least four months and should
be released to their families while their cases proceed, activists say.
50 members of the local Chaldean community held a vigil and protest
outside the jail last week to draw attention to the plight of the asylum
seekers, who fled their country out of fear of persecution by the
radical group Islamic State.
Mark Arabo, a spokesman for the local Chaldean community and
president of the Neighborhood Market Assn., said 20 people in the
facility have relatives in San Diego County who are willing to be
sponsors, which would allow the asylum seekers to be released pending
the resolution of their claims.
"All we're asking for is for them
to be released to their families," Arabo said. "Why they aren't being
released now, we don't know."
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, said there are 27 Iraqi nationals in ICE custody at the
jail, which is run by Corrections Corp of America under a contract with
the government. She could not say how many are Christians.
said the asylum seekers have been in custody for at least four months — a
far longer period than for those who have relatives willing to take
"These are people who escaped a Christian genocide only to
be detained for months, with little or no hope of being released to
their families," Arabo said.
Mack could not provide details on cases because asylum claims are confidential unless the seeker signs a waiver.
a statement, the agency said decisions on whom to release are made
after a review of each case. Several factors — including a person's
criminal history, his flight risk, his immigration history and whether
he poses a threat to public safety — are all weighed.
ICE's limited detention resources and the agency's policy of holding
those who are public safety threats or flight risks, the vast majority
of foreign nationals arrested by ICE are, in fact, released under
supervision while their cases are pending," the statement said.
Bardis Vakili, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in San
Diego, said the agency is detaining far too many asylum seekers on
"specious" reasons: that they may flee or pose a threat.
the agency's policies state that if there is a credible claim of asylum,
then the person should be released "as soon as reasonably practical"
under supervision. It's unclear how many of the Chaldeans in the Otay
facility have had a determination of their asylum status.
said scores of asylum seekers are languishing in San Diego and Imperial
County detention facilities after their claims were denied. He said a
better system would be to get seekers to appear in immigration court
early on, where a judge could determine who is a risk and who is not,
and "triage" the cases. Under current law, if someone is in custody for
six months and hasn't seen a judge, he must have a court hearing, Vakili