A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court alleges that as a result of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 60,000 asylum seekers have been forced into “precarious, life-threatening situations” across the border.
The lawsuit, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, et al. v. Wolf, seeks to block the continued implementation of the policy while hearings are suspended and facilitate the return of individual asylum-seeking plaintiffs so they can pursue their claims from inside the United States. Plaintiffs also seek to have a federal judge order that legal service groups be allowed to continue their work unencumbered on behalf of asylum seekers.
A message seeking comment sent to the Department of Homeland Security was not immediately answered.
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 says he 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 allegedly refused to consider allowing his family to return to the United States to pursue their asylum case, making finding an attorney nearly impossible, according to the complaint.
“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,” the plaintiff alleged. “We called each number many times and no one answered the phone.”
The policy allows U.S. border officers to return asylum seekers to Mexico as their claims are adjudicated in U.S. immigration courts, nearly all without the benefit of legal assistance, according to the civil rights group Human Rights Watch.
As of November 2019, more than 56,000 asylum seekers, including 16,000 children — about 500 of whom were under 12 months old — have been sent back to wait in Mexico, according to the group.
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. In that case, which was filed just after MPP took effect, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the policy was not authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The current 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.