JFS & ACLU: Judge Rules Family Subjected to MPP Must Have Access to Lawyer for 'Fear of Return to Mexico' Interview - JFSSD
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JFS & ACLU: Judge Rules Family Subjected to MPP Must Have Access to Lawyer for ‘Fear of Return to Mexico’ Interview

Nov. 13, 2019

Edward Sifuentes, ACLUF of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-501-3408, [email protected]
Sandy Young, Jewish Family Service of San Diego, 619-295-7140, [email protected]


SAN DIEGO – Federal Court Judge Dana Sabraw granted the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties’ (ACLUF-SDIC) a motion for a temporary restraining order guaranteeing its plaintiffs in a lawsuit access to their lawyer in preparation for and during their fear of return to Mexico proceedings, also known as “non-refoulement interviews.” The ACLUF-SDIC filed the class-action lawsuit last week demanding that all people in such proceedings while in government custody get access to their lawyers.

The order issued on Tuesday is critical for the plaintiffs, a Guatemalan family seeking asylum in the United States. The parents and their five children were forced to leave their home after they were extorted, and the couple’s 17-year-old daughter was raped and threatened with death.

Under the government’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), the family was forced to remain in Mexico while their asylum case is being processed. In Mexico, they experienced additional harm.

“The decision is a victory for our resilient plaintiffs, the right to counsel, and our vision for a fair and just immigration system,” said Monika Langarica, Immigrants’ Rights Attorney with the ACLUF-SDIC. “The order upholds the right to counsel in such high-stakes proceedings and rejects the government’s contention that anything less comports with the law.”

For many asylum seekers forced into the administration’s Remain in Mexico program, including the plaintiffs and their five children, the non-refoulement interviews determine if they will be forced to continue in the program despite fearing persecution or torture in Mexico or if they will be allowed to await their asylum hearings in the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holds these individuals in its stations until the interviews are over but refuses to permit them to meet confidentially with the asylum seekers’ lawyers.

In the temporary restraining order, Judge Sabraw determined that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail when the issues can be fully briefed, providing a hopeful sign for other people forced into the MPP program and held in CBP stations. The order sets out a briefing schedule to address the pending motion for a preliminary injunction that seeks the same relief for the entire class.

The family is being represented in their immigration case pro bono by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is one of two organizations, along with Immigrant Defenders Law Center, in the San Diego region providing legal representation and counsel to asylum seekers subjected to MPP.

“Judge Sabraw’s decision was a step in the right direction for Jewish Family Service’s clients.” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service of San Diego. “We will be able to provide legal counsel for the family, the lead plaintiffs in this lawsuit, for their fear of returning to Mexico interview. But, access to an attorney while in CBP custody is still not guaranteed for all individuals enrolled in MPP. Everyone in MPP has the right to due process.”

About 50,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under MPP to await their immigration proceedings, which unnecessarily puts each one of them in danger. Since the policy was implemented, there have been numerous incidents of people being robbed, kidnapped, extorted or murdered. This danger is exacerbated by the government’s policy of denying access to counsel while people are in CBP custody before and during their non-refoulement interviews.

A copy of the court order can be viewed here: https://www.aclusandiego.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/434704150-Sabraw-Order.pdf.