Federal Judge Blocks Barr’s Attempt to Deny Asylum Seekers Bail

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Seattle on Tuesday blocked an order by Attorney General William P. Barr that would have kept thousands of migrants detained indefinitely while waiting for their asylum cases to be decided.

Judge Marsha J. Pechman of United States District Court for the Western District of Washington described the order, which would have denied some migrants a bail hearing, as unconstitutional. Under a preliminary injunction, Judge Pechman said migrants must be granted a bond hearing within seven days of a request or be released if they have not received a hearing in that time.

“The court finds that plaintiffs have established a constitutionally protected interest in their liberty, a right to due process, which includes a hearing before a neutral decision maker to assess the necessity of their detention and a likelihood of success on the merits of that issue,” Judge Pechman wrote.

Her ruling also noted that the government was likely to appeal the decision.

The order, which was issued in April, was another attempt by the Trump administration to prevent the release of migrants into the country — and to deter asylum seekers from crossing the border altogether.

The administration in recent months has raised fees for asylum seekers and slowed the processing at ports of entry. It is also expanding a policy that has forced more than 13,000 migrants to wait in Mexico as their legal cases proceed.

For years, migrants who were determined to have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries have been allowed to request bond hearings so they could be released on bail rather than wait in detention facilities for their cases to be heard. The order from Mr. Barr, whose purview extends to immigration courts, would have denied that right to a hearing to people who are apprehended after they illegally enter the United States.

He appeared to acknowledge at the time that the order could aggravate already overcrowded facilities. Conditions at the facilities have been the subject of public backlash after lawyers, lawmakers and the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog described mistreatment and filth.

In April, Mr. Barr delayed his order for 90 days.

Michael Tan, a senior staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the order would have denied due process to those seeking sanctuary in the United States.

The administration, he said, was “trying to create a perception that we need to lock everybody up or chaos ensues.”

But Mr. Tan added: “That’s just not true. We have a longstanding process in our immigration system to decide whether someone should be locked up or not.”