Migrant rights groups sue as US starts sending families back to Mexico

Migrant rights groups sue as US starts sending families back to Mexico
Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration as authorities have begun shipping asylum-seeking families across the border to wait for their claims to be processed, insisting the policy endangers lives.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of 11 anonymous asylum seekers and six migrants' rights groups, demanding an end to the Trump administration's "Migrant Protection Protocols" policy, which requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be processed, and requesting the migrants be allowed to return to the US to wait.

The asylum-seekers in question were returned to Mexico on January 30 and now "fear for their lives," the suit says. They reportedly include 10 men and one woman from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, according to a source close to the case. The woman is reportedly a lesbian who claims she was raped because of her sexual orientation and her partner was threatened with death in their home country of Honduras. 

The suit – officially titled Innovation Law Lab et al. v. Nielsen et al., and filed in the migrant-friendly Northern District of California Court on Thursday – takes aim at the Department of Homeland Security, its head Kirstjen Nielsen, and other US agencies involved in the program, which was instituted in December to address the administration's concerns that asylum-seekers fail to show up for their court dates when allowed to roam the interior of the US with an ankle monitor.

The Migrant Protection Protocols program expanded this week beyond single adults, removing its first five families – 16 people, including children, originally from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala – to Tijuana on Wednesday, according to Mexican immigration authorities. Migrants' rights groups have protested that keeping families in the border area – currently experiencing epidemic levels of violence – endangers the lives of asylum-seekers.

"Both the US and Mexican governments know that the border area is unsafe for women and children," said Migrants' Rights and Justice Program Director Michelle Brane at the Women's Refugee Commission.

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While Mexican authorities initially protested against the Migrant Protocols Policy as well, insisting they did not have the "operational or legal capacity" to handle the outflow of asylum seekers, they announced they would comply with the policy last month. The program has been implemented at the Tijuana and San Diego border crossings, with an eye toward rolling it out along all checkpoints later this year. Only "aliens arriving in the US on land from Mexico… who are not clearly admissible and who are placed in removal proceedings" are eligible.

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