The ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the Trump administration’s new policies to keep Central American migrants who are seeking asylum in Mexico while their cases in the US are being processed.
The lawsuit is the latest challenge to sweeping moves made by the Trump administration on immigration policy, including banning asylum for those who crossed without authorization. The administration has been blocked by federal judges from enforcing such measures, including ending the program protecting those who arrived in the country as children — known as DACA.
The latest challenge is focused on a policy titled “migrant protection protocols,” the most recent attempt by the Trump administration to discourage migrants, including asylum-seekers, from trying to enter the US. The policy went into place on Jan. 28 and initially was focused on single adults at the port of entry in Tijuana. As of Wednesday, the policy was extended to families.
“The Trump administration is forcibly returning asylum seekers to danger in Mexico,” Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “Once again, the administration is breaking the law in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking safety in the United States.”
Under the policy, certain migrants at the border will receive a “notice to appear” in US immigration court and will be returned to Mexico until their hearing, according to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 individuals seeking asylum who were taken back to Mexico.
In January, the Trump administration informed the Mexican government that it was going to be enacting the policy based on a statute stating that certain individuals can be sent back to the contiguous country they arrived from.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU claims that the statute cannot be used against asylum-seekers, and that it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act protections for establishing a right to apply for asylum and blocking the removal of individuals to a country where they would face persecution.
The group also claims that the administration avoided the regulatory process to institute sweeping changes and did not go through the normally deliberative system that allows for public comment before a new rule is implemented.
One of the plaintiffs, named “Howard Doe,” was kidnapped and held by a Mexican drug cartel on his way to the southwestern border for two weeks, according to the suit. He escaped, but he fears that the cartel will track him down as he waits in Mexico for his immigration case to proceed.
Almost none of the plaintiffs, the ACLU said, were asked about their fear of being returned to Mexico.
In Howard Doe’s case, he was referred to an asylum officer because of his stated fears of returning to Mexico but was still returned to the country without any explanation. Many of the plaintiffs have fears they will be unable to adequately communicate with legal representation in their cases, let alone have a place to sleep at night.
“Plaintiff Frank Doe does not know where he will stay while he prepares his asylum claim,” the suit read. “After being forced to return to Mexico, he attempted to return to the shelter where he resided previously, but officials turned him away because it was full. He was able to find a different shelter to stay for a couple of nights, but he does not have a more permanent residence. Plaintiff Ian Doe was also unable to return to the shelter where he stayed previously.”
The Mexican government, according to the agency, will allow those individuals to stay in the country until their court dates in the US. On the day of their hearing, migrants will be taken to US immigration courts for their cases to be heard. Unaccompanied children will be excluded from the policy, and people from “vulnerable populations” may be excluded on a case-by-case basis.
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