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San Diego Legal Service Providers, Human Rights Advocates Launch #RestoreAsylumNow Campaign to Call for an End to “Migrant Protection Protocols”

Campaign Tied with One-Year Anniversary of “Remain in Mexico” Policy

SAN DIEGO (Jan. 29, 2020) – One year ago today, the federal government implemented its Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP, commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy). The policy forcibly returns asylum seekers to Mexico through the duration of their asylum proceedings, depriving them of protection, and access to resources and assistance in the U.S., including vital legal aid. Initially starting as a pilot program at the San Ysidro Port-of-Entry, MPP has now expanded across the southern border.

As part of statewide campaigns throughout California and Texas known as #RestoreAsylumNow, in San Diego: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Al Otro Lado, American Friends Service Committee, Human Rights First, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Innovation Law Lab and Jewish Family Service of San Diego renew their call to put an end to the Migrant Protection Protocols immediately.

Since the policy went into effect, more than 25,700 asylum seekers – from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, among other countries – have been returned to the Tijuana/Mexicali region in Mexico, and more than 60,000 in total returned across the border, leaving them at risk of extreme danger while they wait for the U.S. government to hear their asylum cases.

“The U.S. government continues to knowingly send vulnerable people – including numerous families with young children – back to extremely violent and precarious conditions within Mexico, with clear disregard for U.S. laws, international obligations and the moral imperative to protect human life,” said Kate Clark, director of immigration services at Jewish Family Service of San Diego.

Human Rights First, a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization, has documented at least 816 publicly reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture and other violent attacks against asylum seekers who have been forced to return to Mexico. Legal service providers continue to encounter individuals with significant medical conditions, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups forced into Mexico in direct violation of the U.S. government’s own standards for the program.

“Each day the situation at the border further deteriorates. MPP has intentionally forced thousands into the streets of notoriously dangerous border towns and overcrowded shelters with unsanitary conditions,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “There are very few attorneys and legal service providers available to provide life-saving legal assistance to this exposed population in Mexico.”

Earlier this month, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) won a preliminary injunction in Doe v. Wolf, its class-action lawsuit before the Southern District of California challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) refusal to grant access to counsel in MPP non-refoulement interviews, which determine if people in MPP will be forced to continue in the program despite fearing persecution or torture in Mexico.

Prior to the injunction, U.S. Customs and Border Protections detained such individuals pending and during interviews but refused to allow them access to their lawyers before and during these highly consequential life-or-death proceedings. The order now requires DHS to provide in-person legal visitation in preparation for, and lawyers’ participation during, non-refoulement interviews.

“The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties will keep fighting for and defending the rights of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable and whose lives are in danger,” said Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights attorney, ACLUF-SDIC. “We urge you to join us in demanding that our government end MPP and stop putting people’s lives in danger.”

Last year, ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and other civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of MPP as a whole in ILL v. Wolf. The litigation is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a statement submitted for the #RestoreAsylumNow effort, the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council 119, representing over 14,500 employees of the Department of Homeland Security’s US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) worldwide added: “USCIS asylum officers are charged with the sacred mission of ensuring our government’s compliance with U.S. and international laws that guarantee the due process and humane treatment for persons seeking asylum in the United States. The asylum officers we represent strongly object to this harmful policy, under which tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been denied due process and placed in dangerous circumstances with inadequate protection or means of support.”

The Round Table of Former Immigration Judges has stated, “[T]he largest assault to due process is the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. MPP prevents access to the court, to counsel and to resources refugees need to effectively present their cases. The limitations on due process in MPP are not incidental to the program, they are intentional. The Round Table of Former Immigration Judges calls for the elimination of MPP immediately…”

“Despite ongoing advocacy and litigation efforts to mitigate the harms of MPP, the policy continues to terrorize families and individuals seeking safety in the U.S.,” said Ian Philabaum, director of border programs, Innovation Law Lab. “This program would be more appropriately called the ‘Migrant Persecution Protocols,’ because it puts asylum seekers directly in harm’s way.”

ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Al Otro Lado, American Friends Service Committee, Human Rights First, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Innovation Law Lab, and Jewish Family Service of San Diego urge San Diegans to contact their congressperson and call for an end to this inhumane policy.

Participate and join in the conversation using #RestoreAsylumNow across all social media platforms.