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Federal Judge Rules ‘Remain In Mexico’ Family Must Have Access To Lawyer

The outside of the Edward J. Schwartz federal courthouse in downtown San Dieg...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: The outside of the Edward J. Schwartz federal courthouse in downtown San Diego is shown in this photo, Oct. 18, 2006.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw ruled Tuesday that a Guatemalan family of seven in the "Remain in Mexico" program cannot be sent back to Mexico without first having access to a lawyer.

Thousands of asylum-seekers have been sent back to Mexico under the program, which is officially called Migrant Protection Protocols, despite many saying they are afraid to return because they are targets for kidnapping and other crimes.

The lawsuit, filed last Tuesday by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, alleged that they were denied access to lawyers during interviews in which federal agents determined whether they could be safely returned to Mexico.

The ruling only applies to this family, but a hearing is set for next month on whether it will be applied across the entire border.

The government has argued that it wouldn’t be logistically feasible to give migrants access to attorneys before and during these interviews. But Monika Langarica, an attorney for the ACLU, says it's their right.

"The government has elected to hold people in these facilities while they’re waiting for the interviews. All of these logistical constraints that the government argues prevents it from abiding by constitutionally and federally mandated rights are problems of its own making," said Langarica.

These “non-refoulement” interviews are given by telephone in Border Patrol stations. Langarica says these are inadequate places to hold people for as long as a week at a time before their interviews.

"Instead of giving people due process, and all of the resources that they need to properly make their case during the non-refoulement interviews, the government instead locks them up in CBP facilities," Langarica told KPBS. "There, people are subject to horrific conditions on top of the harm they’ve experienced in Mexico and the trauma they’ve experienced in their home countries."

The Guatemalan family claims they were beaten by Mexican federal police after being sent back to Mexico.

This afternoon, lawyers for the family asked judge Sabraw to hold CBP in contempt, as the agency still had not let them meet with their clients, who are currently being held in a Border Patrol station in Chula Vista.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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