Los Angeles — Today, immigration advocates filed a new lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. The policy has forced over 60,000 asylum seekers into precarious, life-threatening situations in Mexico and deprived them of access to legal assistance and other tools needed to meaningfully present their asylum claims. The lawsuit, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, et al. v. Wolf, seeks to block the continued implementation of the policy while hearings are suspended, facilitate the return of individual asylum-seeking plaintiffs so they can pursue their claims from inside the United States, and allow legal service groups to continue their work unencumbered on behalf of asylum seekers. In addition to organizational plaintiffs Jewish Family Service of San Diego and Immigrant Defenders Law Center, the suit is filed on behalf of eight individual asylum-seeking plaintiffs.
“I am very afraid for my family,” said a Honduran man who was sent back to Mexico from the U.S. with his wife and three children in October 2019 and is one of the individual plaintiffs. “My children cannot go to school in person because it is too dangerous. I tried to send one of my children to school, but he stopped going because the children were getting robbed by the cartels.” Even after a cartel in Tijuana attempted to kidnap the man’s son, U.S. immigration officials refused to consider allowing his family to return to the United States to pursue their asylum case. This made finding an attorney nearly impossible. He added, “They gave us a list of attorneys to call but did not explain to us how a lawyer in the United States could represent us while we were in Mexico. We called each number many times and no one answered the phone.”
In an effort to protect their families, asylum seekers are suing the Trump administration to seek release into the U.S. while they pursue their cases in immigration court. Before the implementation of the “Remain in Mexico” policy in January 2019, all asylum seekers were permitted to remain in the United States during their immigration proceedings — without being subject to kidnappings, assaults, or discrimination in a foreign country. Legal service providers join the asylum seekers in this lawsuit to defend their right to provide meaningful representation to the people they are dedicated to serve.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review an earlier, different challenge to the Remain in Mexico policy, Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf. In that case, which was filed just after MPP took effect, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the policy was not authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act. Today’s lawsuit challenges the policy as applied to thousands of asylum seekers still trapped in Mexico despite the indefinite suspension of all MPP immigration court hearings.
“By design, the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program strips asylum seekers of the ability, power and critical information they need to effectively seek asylum in the U.S. Asylum seekers have one chance to make their case, often with life or death consequences,” said Jewish Family Service of San Diego CEO Michael Hopkins. “Our pro bono attorneys handling ‘Remain in Mexico’ cases are forced to lawyer without direct or regular access to our clients. And the legal labyrinth is a thousand times more daunting for asylum seekers left alone to fight their cases for themselves.”
Margaret Cargioli, Managing Attorney of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center’s Cross-Border Initiative Program, stated, “MPP has been a guise for the eradication of justice to those fleeing harm based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group (such as LGBTQI+) and political opinion. The program has proven to be a calculated effort by the Trump administration to interfere with the rights of asylum seekers. Forcing men, women and children to reside in notoriously dangerous Mexican border cities has depleted the moral and legal foundations of U.S. asylum law.”
Plaintiffs are represented by Innovation Law Lab, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild with pro bono partner Arnold & Porter.
“Forcing people to defend themselves in complex court proceedings while trapped in dangerous conditions in another country is egregious, unlawful and inhumane,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “The experiences of asylum seekers our government has turned away and the barriers imposed on advocates struggling to represent them make the real purpose of this policy crystal clear: to undermine and obstruct their right to seek asylum.”
“With more than a year of experience with MPP’s impacts on refugees, it is plain that DHS has deliberately misled the public, arguing that the policy expedites the adjudication of meritorious asylum claims when it so clearly does the opposite,” explained Stephen Manning, Executive Director of Innovation Law Lab. “The policy seeks to systematically destroy the lives of asylum seekers, obstructing access to core survival remedies, and summarily deporting as many people as possible.”
“It is ludicrous to think a person fleeing persecution would have any chance at navigating the U.S. asylum system while being forced to live in danger and squalor in a foreign country,” said Melissa Crow, Senior Supervising Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “It could not be clearer that the true purpose of this policy is to dehumanize these men, women, and children and make their lives such hell that they abandon their claims for protection.”
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.