The Obama administration said Tuesday it will stop detaining asylum seekers who have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries. To be released into the U.S., the asylum seekers will have to establish the credible fear and their identities and show they are not dangerous or a flight risk, said John Morton, Department of Human Services assistant secretary overseeing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Foreigners who arrive at a port of entry and are found to have a credible fear will automatically be considered for release into the U.S., Morton said.

Asylum seekers still will spend time in detention while they undergo interviews and their information is checked, but the administration hopes to reduce the length of their stay with a policy change, ICE said. Their stay in the U.S. will be considered temporary until a final decision is made on their asylum claim.

Currently, foreigners who come to the U.S. without valid documents can be immediately removed from the country, without a hearing. Also, requests for release must be made in writing, ICE said.

Brian Hale, ICE spokesman, said the new policy also will apply to people seeking asylum and already in detention.

The advocacy group Human Rights First reported last April that from 2004 to 2007, the rates of temporary release of asylum seekers dropped from 41.3 percent to 4.2 percent.

The Bush administration toughened criteria for asylum seekers to win release from detention in 2007. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said those rules were “unduly harsh” and cheered the changes Tuesday. Immigrant advocates wanted to see more details on the change before commenting.

Steve Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for tougher immigration laws, said detention ensures people show up for hearings. “The overwhelming amount of people who apply for asylum don’t get it and that’s why they don’t show up. Lack of detention destroys the credibility and meaningfulness of immigration courts,” Camarota said.

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