First Asylum Seekers Released Talk About “Tough Times” In Sheridan Prison

"Now we are out here and we’re happy," one asylum seeker said through an interpreter.

Federal immigration officials released eight of the 124 immigrant detainees held in a federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., this week. They spoke publicly for the first time at a press conference on Aug. 22.

The release comes almost two months after the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the Innovation Law Lab sued to provide pro bono legal counsel to the asylum seekers. Immigration attorneys helped the detainees who asked for representation from Innovation Law Lab to successfully pass their credible fear interviews, which begins the process of applying for refugee status in the U.S.

"Holding people in prison without the ability to communicate with the outside world, including family, clergy and lawyers violates fundamental constitutional rights that apply to all people in the United States, regardless of their citizenship," the ACLU of Oregon said in a press release.

Advocates for the detainees also alleged that prison officials failed to provide opportunities for some of the immigrants to freely practice their religion in the prison.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed the men in the federal prison because the federal immigration agency ran out of space in its detention centers designed to house asylum seekers and other immigrants who have not been convicted of a crime.

"A prison is a prison," one man said through an interpreter at the press conference Wednesday. "Sometimes there are good people or normal things happening. But other days there are tough times. Now we are out here and we're happy."

The ACLU of Oregon says it expects more asylum seekers to be released on bond later this week.