NYCLU Sues to Allow Asylum Seekers to Pursue Applications in United States

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
August 25, 2020 9:45 am

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NEW YORK — Today the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s policy to force vulnerable asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico awaiting hearings on their asylum claims, the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP). The lawsuit was filed in Brooklyn federal court on behalf of several asylum-seekers who are stranded in dangerous conditions in Mexico as well as their relatives living in New York. Among other claims, it argues that the government lacked authority to return these individuals to Mexico because they already were found present in the United States.

“The protocols are designed to keep out asylum-seekers of color at all costs and without any regard for their safety,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “The policy demonstrates Trump’s blatant disregard for the law. People seeking refuge should be able to safely join their families and go through the asylum process without the threat of harm they’re currently facing.”

The plaintiffs in Mexico have been in constant fear for their lives and experienced kidnappings, threats, and assault while in Mexico. One plaintiff, a transgender woman, was sent back to Mexico despite the well-documented deadly conditions for transgender women there. The U.S. Department of State acknowledges that more than half of LGBTI persons in Mexico reportedly have suffered hate speech and physical aggression. She has faced horrific abuse in Mexico and lives in daily fear for her life. The plaintiffs also have suffered destitution while they wait for hearings on their asylum claims. Several of them slept on the streets for days after being returned to Mexico before living in a refugee camp. They have had difficulties obtaining medical and mental health care for themselves and their children. Making matters worse, there has been almost no progress in processing their applications for asylum – two plaintiffs have waited in Mexico for almost a year without a single hearing on their application.

“The MPP is a transparent effort to deny immigrants the protection of the law, which guarantees that everyone can apply for asylum, and expressly forbids sending people to countries where they will be persecuted,” said Megan Sallomi, staff attorney at the NYCLU. “The Trump administration has consistently attacked and undermined these laws based on racist stereotypes about Latin American countries. They’re now using this rule to deny protections for nearly all immigrants appearing at the border.”

Trump and the Department of Homeland Security first announced the protocols in a press release in December 2018 and have since claimed the program “is restoring integrity to the system” by allowing asylum-seekers to expeditiously prosecute claims for asylum while providing for their safety and security. In practice, as the individual plaintiffs in this lawsuit demonstrate, neither is the case.

The lawsuit further alleges that the dangers asylum-seekers face in Mexico is a feature of a program motivated by racial animus, not a flaw. It is consistent with President Trump’s many statements that asylum-seekers from Central Americas are “animals,” who should be harmed if they seek protection in the U.S.

In March, the Supreme Court stayed an order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a case brought by the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, allowing the MPP to continue while the case is on appeal. However, individual plaintiffs, like those in this case, challenge their inclusion in the MPP on different legal grounds. For example, the ACLU of Massachusetts also challenged the application of MPP to individuals found present in the United States in a case now pending at the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Counsel on the case are Megan Sallomi, Amy Belsher, and Christopher Dunn.

You can find materials on the case here:

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