SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Eight of more than 100 asylum seekers who were locked up by the Trump administration in a federal prison in Oregon have been released on bond, immigration lawyers said Wednesday.
The first man to be released after being held in the prison for almost three months fell to his knees on Monday and kissed the ground after leaving the building, said Katy Mitchell of Innovation Law Lab which represents dozens of the detainees.
More detained immigrants are expected to be released on bond in coming days from the prison in rural Sheridan, northwest of Salem.
Lawyers, legal advocates, interpreters and ordinary citizens got involved to ensure those who were brought to the prison in May could "exercise one of the most basic rights the Constitution allows, which is due process," said Victoria Bejarano Muirhead of Innovation Law Lab.
Most of the asylum seekers say they faced risks in their home countries, including India, Nepal, Guatemala, Mexico and China. All 79 of Innovation Law Lab's clients in the prison were found in hearings to have a credible fear of returning home, Bejarano Muirhead told a news conference in Portland. That's one of the first steps in a process in which they could be granted asylum in the United States.
One of those released this week, Karandeep Singh from India, said he was grateful to be out of the prison, where detainees were held in crowded cells with open toilets.
"In the beginning, I had no hope. Now I feel like it's a dream. I'm very happy to be here," Singh told reporters in the news conference, which was live-streamed.
A total of 124 immigrants were brought to the prison in late May after being detained at the U.S. southern border. The men were among approximately 1,600 immigrants transferred to federal prisons in five states. Immigration officials had run short of space to hold people under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed an emergency lawsuit in June on behalf of Innovation Law Lab to force the government to allow the detainees in Sheridan access to lawyers.
After hearings determine the asylum seekers have a credible fear of being repatriated, they are eligible for release while their asylum applications are processed. The bond amounts typically run from $1,500 to $5,000 and are usually put up by family or friends, Bejarano Muirhead said. Not all can afford it, though, she noted.
Those freed so far are traveling to Georgia, New York, Maryland and California, where they can pursue their asylum applications.