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ACLU Discusses Legal Battle Over Remain In Mexico Policy

February 20, 2019 1:12 p.m.

GUEST: Daniel Galindo, staff attorney, ACLU

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Since the end of January the Trump administration has been requiring asylum seekers coming to the U.S. through the southern border to wait in Mexico while their legal proceedings are conducted in the United States court system. Now the ACLU and partners have filed a lawsuit fighting against that new policy. Daniel endo is a staff attorney with the ACLU whose immigrant rights project. He joins us via Skype. Dan welcome. Hi. Thanks for having me. I lay out for us the main legal arguments the ACLU is making in its lawsuit over the Trump administration's migrant protection protocols also known as the remain in Mexico policy.

So are a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's policy of forcing asylum seekers to return to Mexico and remain there. He's arguing that this breaks the law in various ways it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act it violates how administrative agencies are allowed to do business how they're allowed to make decisions and that it violates the country's duty under international human rights law not to return people to dangerous conditions.

And one of the claims in the lawsuit is that the U.S. government isn't fulfilling its obligation not to return people to those dangerous conditions. Could you explain that.

Yeah. So the type of assessment that is being done to people in this program. So one the we sued on behalf of 11 people nearly all of them were not asked if they feared being returned to Mexico. So it is only if they are affirmatively say without anyone asking that they are afraid of returning to Mexico that any kind of further process happens.

What we say in our complaint happened to several folks is all kinds of problems with any kind of competent assessment or screening.

If you are in fact concerned about returning people to danger. So one interview lasted 45 minutes. Several people had officers interviewing them who didn't seem to speak Spanish well without an interpreter provided folks getting cut off when they tried to go into any sort of danger that they felt in Mexico all the. All those kinds of things are are inadequate to decide whether someone has a fear of returning to Mexico.

But the Trump administration says the Immigration and Nationality Act allows people entering the country illegally to be returned to a country with a shared border to the U.S. isn't that exactly what's taking place under the remain in Mexico policy.

So what's taken place is that the law they are citing is being applied to people are exempt from that particular law. So there is an exception to folks who can have this policy applied to them and it includes all the people to whom it's being applied.

So people seeking asylum entering without documents there's already a provision that says what procedures they can have and they are exempted from the law that the Trump administration is citing. So that's sort of a long way of saying no to the law that they're trying to cite doesn't allow them to apply it to people seeking asylum at the border who are entering and say without papers and you're representing eleven plaintiffs in this lawsuit tell us more about who they are and what they say they've experienced.

So they are the 11 plaintiffs are all from Central America.

They all came to the border presented themselves lawfully applying for asylum and they all were returned to Mexico so that not their home country not a place where they have ties and a place where several of them have already experienced violence have already had to pay bribes to police they're on their way to the border have been attacked there one had been kidnapped for two weeks by a drug cartel and escaped and several like I said have been subject to violence on their way up and now that they're in Tijuana similarly have been subject to violence and they have to find some way now to stay in this and this precarious position while they apply for asylum.

And this policy initially was rolled out in late January and it started with individuals. Now just last week asylum seeking families are also being returned.

What can you tell us about how many people and families have now been sent back to Mexico so that the latest numbers we have seen is that 73 people have been returned since late January including 13 children.

And the ACLU is also representing nonprofit legal organizations why are they included in this legal action.

Yeah. So they are all affected by this as well. They serve people seeking asylum.

And this policy affects their funding and affects who they can serve affects how they have to respond. They are also damaged by it. And that's why they're suing.

And these the ACLU has successfully sued the Trump administration recently over the immigration policies such as the family separation practice.

How confident are you that you will prevail once again Well as we've said you know the administration is breaking the law in order to deter asylum seekers. That's not permissible that's not allowed under the law. And it's not consistent with our obligations to the law. So that's why we filed suit and that's why we're asking for a judge to stop this policy.

I've been speaking with Dan Glendale a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project. Dan thank you for joining us.

Thanks for having me.