Damus v. Wolf

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 not a crime, and it is inhumane and unnecessary to detain asylum seekers.

What’s the status of this case?

We filed a class action lawsuit in March 2018 against five ICE field offices for violation of the agency’s parole policy, and 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. We are in communication with the government regarding its plans for implementing the corrective measures ordered by the court, and the litigation is ongoing.

Whose life 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. 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 twice. Despite 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 their release.  

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?

Visit our Action Page to learn more about how you can support asylum seekers like Mr. Damus. 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 Coordinator, at krongbrianna@uchastings.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) 

Legal Documents

Damus v. Nielsen – Damus Habeas Petition, September 11, 2018  

Damus v. Nielsen – Redacted Demand Letter, September 4, 2018

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction and Class Cert – Damus et al. v. Nielsen, July 2, 2018

Order Granting Classwide Preliminary Injunction, July 2, 2018

Memorandum Opinion Granting Preliminary Injunction, July 2, 2018

Damus v. Nielsen – Complaint, March 15, 2018

Press Releases

Federal Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers | July 02, 2018

Groups Challenge Trump Administration's Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seekers | March 15, 2018

Select Media Coverage

"Get in Line. Follow the Rules. Go to Jail," Noah Lanard, Mother Jones, March/April 2019

"Asylum Seekers Win in Court as Federal Judge Rules Against Indefinite & Arbitrary Detention," Democracy Now, July 5, 2018

"Court Blocks Trump Administration From Blanket Detention of Asylum Seekers," Miriam Jordan, New York Times, July 2, 2018

"Trump’s Unlawful Policy of Detaining Asylum Seekers Without Parole," Eleni Bakst and Laura Gault, Slate, March 15, 2018