SAN DIEGO – In a victory for immigrants’ rights, a Guatemalan family who had been subjected to the government’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) will be allowed to continue its asylum case while staying in the United States.
The family, who fled Guatemala due to death threats and violence, traveled through Mexico to request asylum in the U.S. earlier this year. Instead of allowing the family to enter the country to pursue their claim, U.S. border officials returned them to Tijuana under the MPP, or “Remain in Mexico,” policy even after they expressed fear of being in Mexico.
With the parents named as plaintiffs, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) filed a class-action lawsuit asking that asylum seekers subjected to MPP be allowed to consult with their attorneys in preparation for and during their fear of return to Mexico proceedings, also known as “non-refoulement interviews.” The family had been in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody more than a week before their interview which took place on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Judge Dana Sabraw granted the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order allowing the family to see their lawyer while in CBP custody.
“With the assistance of their lawyers, our clients prevailed in their interviews underscoring the critical importance of having access to a lawyer in such high-stakes proceedings,” said Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC.
The family is being represented in their immigration case pro bono by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is one of only a few organizations, along with Immigrant Defenders Law Center, in the San Diego region providing legal representation and counsel to asylum seekers subjected to MPP.
“Because of Judge Sabraw’s ruling, Jewish Family Service was able to provide legal counsel for the family, the lead plaintiffs in this lawsuit, for their fear of returning to Mexico interview. The family was able to communicate their traumatic experiences and ongoing fears of persecution while in Mexico to the federal government and will now be allowed to await their asylum hearings in the U.S. – safely and with adequate resources,” said Jewish Family Service CEO Michael Hopkins. “This family demonstrates the importance of the ACLU’s lawsuit, demanding that asylum seekers have access to their legal representation while in CBP custody. This is critical to their future, and is a right to due process that should be provided to all in MPP.”
About 50,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under MPP to await their immigration proceedings, which unnecessarily puts each one of them in danger. Since the policy was implemented, there have been numerous incidents of people being robbed, kidnapped, extorted or murdered. This danger is exacerbated by the government’s policy of denying access to counsel while people are in CBP custody before and during their non-refoulement interviews.
“Without access to counsel, our clients and their children would have faced a greater risk of being returned to a country where their lives would be threatened,” Langarica said. “The government continues to deny that right for similarly situated people, so we will continue to fight for their rights as well.”