Immigration attorneys in El Paso are joining forces to denounce what they describe as an abuse of power on behalf of immigration enforcement officers.
Chief among the attorneys' concerns is their claim that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is increasingly denying parole for immigrants with verified asylum cases and no criminal records. Some of their clients have relatives or children who are legal residents or U.S. citizens.
"We've seen changes that have essentially created a situation where somebody who is fleeing for their lives are punished," said Melissa Lopez, an attorney with the Catholic Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services.
Lopez said their clients' detentions can last between five months and two years. A 2016 report by Human Rights First found parole denials for asylum seekers nationwide nearly doubled in the last three years.
Seven human rights and immigrant advocate organizations serving the West Texas and New Mexico border region are forming a coalition they're calling the Border Immigration Council.
Together they plan to call for a meeting with the local ICE field director, Corey Price, who assumed the position last December.
The attorneys claim that under Price's leadership they've seen more of their requests denied. This includes deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who are caring for relatives with severe illness like cancer.
In a statement ICE said the agency makes decisions based on public safety and is focusing on recent border crossers.