Human Rights First and Scores of NGOs and Legal Clinics File Amicus Brief In Support of Overturning “Remain in Mexico” Policy

Human Rights First, the National Immigration Law Center (“NILC”), and Sidley Austin LLP filed an amicus curiae—friend of the court—brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (“MPP”), or “Remain in Mexico” policy. The Trump administration used MPP to force thousands of asylum seekers and migrants from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other countries to wait in danger in Mexico for their U.S. immigration court hearings.

The amicus brief, which was filed in the case of Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab, seeks to illustrate the horrific harm inflicted on people subjected to MPP. Signing onto the brief are 108 nongovernmental organizations and law school clinics.

“Returning people seeking safety in the United States to Mexico under MPP violates U.S. law and treaty obligations to refugees. Time and time again, our research has found that people turned back to Mexico by the Trump administration are being targeted for horrific violence while they wait for a chance to apply for U.S. humanitarian protections,” said Kennji Kizuka, senior researcher for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “Every day this dangerous, illegal policy remains in place, the U.S. government is putting more lives at risk.”

“The tragedy that the Trump administration so cruelly visited upon vulnerable refugees, including thousands of young children, cannot be undone, but it can be halted,” said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We are hopeful that both the Supreme Court and the Biden administration will take the steps needed to return adherence to law and respect for basic humanity to our system. Every asylum seeker deserves the fair day in court that MPP has taken from them.”

As the brief describes, the Trump administration implemented MPP with full knowledge that the policy would return people to extreme danger in Mexico. Human Rights First tracked at least 1,314 public reports of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violent attacks against people returned to Mexico under MPP. These reports are likely just the tip of the iceberg given the limited number of asylum seekers who have been interviewed by attorneys, journalists, and human rights investigators. Given this unrelenting violence, many refugees subjected to MPP have given up their requests for U.S. protection, as the brief documents.

MPP also makes finding a U.S. immigration attorney nearly impossible for asylum seekers returned to Mexico under the policy. Without legal counsel, most people subjected to MPP are denied U.S. refugee protections. Indeed, MPP applicants represented by counsel are nearly 12 times more likely to receive relief than those without an attorney. As the brief notes, 97 percent of people in MPP whose cases have been decided did not have an attorney. Overall, of the more than 70,000 migrants and asylum seekers placed in MPP since its implementation, only 523 people—less than 1 percent—have been granted relief.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy violates U.S. law and treaty obligations to project refugees from return to harm and provide those fleeing persecution and torture a meaningful opportunity to request humanitarian protection in the United States.

The brief includes the experiences of people returned to harm in Mexico due to MPP, including:

  • A 35-year-old Salvadoran asylum seeker was kidnapped, stabbed to death, and dismembered after U.S. border officials used MPP to expel him, his wife, and his two young children to Tijuana. Over the course of the previous seven months, he and his family had repeatedly told U.S. officials they were not safe in Tijuana—to no avail.
  • A nine-year-old South American disabled girl and her mother were kidnapped, raped, and brutalized after being returned to Mexico under MPP, despite the fact that the girl should have been exempt from the policy due to her disability. The mother reported the nightmare they endured for the next 13 days: “[t]hey tied my daughter up in a sheet so she could not move. They beat us repeatedly . . . raped us, and masturbated in front of us.”
  • A Cuban woman who was sent to Mexico under MPP was kidnapped and gang-raped. Her kidnappers told her that “this is what we do to Cubans here.”
  • Ernesto, a Guatemalan asylum seeker, was returned to Mexico under MPP in July 2019. In Mexico, he was repeatedly extorted and assaulted by cartel members and targeted due to his sexual orientation—for which he had also been persecuted in Guatemala. He now lives in constant fear of the cartel. “I know that any time these people can return, and I may not have enough money to pay them,” he said.

Since MPP’s inception in January 2019, Human Rights First has tracked and documented violence against asylum seekers returned to Mexico under MPP through a series of reports, and the “Delivered to Danger” initiative with other immigrant and human rights organizations. Human Rights First attorneys representing people returned under MPP—including securing the first grant of asylum under the program—have seen the major barriers to effective representation erected by the policy for the few asylum seekers in MPP who manage to find lawyers. Human Rights First also weighed in as amicus at an earlier stage in this case at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in summer 2019. Human Rights First and other sister organizations have called upon the new Biden administration to end MPP as swiftly as possible given its illegality and the dangers to refugees.

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