Injunction blocking ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy validates legal challenge

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — A California federal judge took an appropriate first step April 8 by issuing a preliminary injunction that temporarily halts the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, said CLINIC Executive Director Anna Gallagher. The Migrant Protection Protocols, as the administration calls the policy, force non-Mexican asylum applicants to stay in Mexico while waiting for their cases to be heard.

The order by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg requires the administration to stop implementation and expansion of the policy on April 12. It has been in effect since January in California and had been expanded to Texas since then.

“This order validates the legal challenge to this untenable policy and acknowledges the burden it places on the plaintiffs who are seeking protection in the United States,” said Gallagher. Although the order only applies retroactively to the 11 individual plaintiffs named in the lawsuit—allowing them to return to the United States to pursue their claim for asylum—it also requires the government to no longer force asylum applicants to wait in Mexico.

Gallagher said besides putting asylum applicants at physical risk in Mexico, the policy creates unnecessary hurdles to seeking legal help.

“Asylum applicants are entitled under U.S. law to get legal help," Gallagher said. "But if they are prohibited from entering the United States to work with their legal representatives and prepare their asylum applications, their cases are significantly weakened. Providing access to effective representation is plain common sense and good for the system. Both asylum officers and immigration judges are in a much better position to review and decide claims more fairly and efficiently when they have well-prepared applications and applicants before them.”

The suit was filed on behalf of 11 Central Americans and half a dozen nonprofits that work with asylum seekers including: Innovation Law Lab, the Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado and the Tahirih Justice Center. At least one news report estimates at least 600 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico under the policy.

CLINIC Strategic Capacity Officer Luis Guerra, who is based near the Mexican border in California, said the Migrant Protection Protocols “do not protect anyone and instead continue to put people in harm’s way. It is inhumane to pretend we are protecting anyone while our policies are forcing them to go back to situations in which their lives are at risk. No one should have to worry about surviving long enough to make it to their next court hearing.”