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Attorneys File Motion to Block Gov’t Policy Turning Away Asylum Seekers

Central American migrants line up for a meal at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico,...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Central American migrants line up for a meal at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

Immigrant rights attorneys filed an emergency motion in San Diego federal court Friday seeking to block a new government policy sending asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to a third country to wait out their asylum claims.

The filing asks for a temporary restraining order halting the practice until a determination can be made regarding the legality of the new policy, titled Asylum Cooperative Agreements or ACA.

A document published last month by the Department of Homeland Security states that the ACA would remove aliens to another country where they can "have access to a full and fair procedure for determining the alien's protection claim."

Attorneys representing migrants in an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's policy of turning back asylum seekers have challenged whether migrants can receive proper access to the asylum process in these countries, which include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

RELATED: Groups: Migrants Told To Wait In Mexico Faced ‘Bait, Switch’

"Like the Trump administration's previous efforts to target asylum seekers, this latest 'bait and switch' jeopardizes the lives of men, women and children who have fled persecution and violence and endured perilous journeys to seek refuge in the United States," said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project. "Unless it is blocked, thousands of desperate asylum seekers who followed the 'rules' by waiting in Mexico to be allowed to seek asylum in the United States will never have an opportunity to have their cases heard and instead will be sent to countries that are clearly incapable of providing protection or even basic safety."

The plaintiffs' motion states that many immigrants are only applicable for ACA because they have been subjected to the government's "metering" policy, which turns back asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border and forces them to wait in Mexico before their asylum claim can be heard.

Immigrant rights attorneys say asylum seekers are instructed to wait in Mexico for an undetermined period of time before their claim can be heard, and are often told they must wait because border crossings are at capacity.

RELATED: Ruling Backs Asylum Seekers At Border Prior To Policy Shift

"We are asking for immediate relief on behalf of thousands of vulnerable individuals who waited in Mexico as instructed by the U.S. government for months in dangerous conditions only to now be threatened with being sent to Guatemala or other ill-equipped Central American countries," said Erika Pinheiro, Al Otro Lado's litigation and policy director. "Yet again, this administration's cruel, haphazard and illegal policies aimed at dismantling the asylum system as we know it, are putting lives at risk."

A hearing on the emergency motion is tentatively set for Jan. 6.

"The Trump administration appears to be relentless in its quest to end asylum and back out of our country's commitment to this most fundamental human rights principle," said Baher Azmy, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "Now, as ever, we need the courts and the public to continue to resist this illegality and cruelty. The government cannot be permitted to exploit yet another Trump policy — the new rule — to attempt to extinguish our clients' challenge to the prior illegal policy — the Turnback Policy."

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