Immigration Groups Attempt to Block Trump Administration's 'Remain in Mexico' Policy

A coalition of immigration groups is working to block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they wait for their asylum claims in the U.S. to be processed.

The group, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, filed a motion on Wednesday arguing that the government's new "Remain in Mexico" policy, which the Trump administration started enforcing last month, puts the lives of vulnerable asylum seekers at risk.

"Under the new policy, individuals who have come to the United States to seek asylum are forced to return to Mexico while their removal proceedings are pending, even though they are not from Mexico, have no domicile in that country, and the border regions they are being sent back to are among the most dangerous in the world," the motion states.

"The new policy, which Defendants dub the 'Migrant Protection Protocols,' is the government's latest effort to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection in the United States under the pretext of a manufactured border crisis," the group states, pointing to the fact that apprehension rates at the southern border in Fiscal Year 2017 were at their lowest since 1972.

So far, the policy has only been rolled out at a port of entry near San Diego, but the Trump administration has said it plans to extend the policy to other entry points along the border.

Immigration groups have argued that the policy goes against a "bedrock principle of U.S. and international law known as nonrefoulement," which "prohibits the United States from returning individuals to countries where they are more likely than not to face persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."

The filing states that while "defendants pay lip service to this standard, stating that under their new policy no one who can prove such a claim will be returned," they have "failed to put in place even the most minimal safeguards" to comply with the obligation.

"As a result, asylum seekers, including the Individual Plaintiffs, are being returned to Mexico without any meaningful consideration of the dangers they face there, including the very real threat that Mexican authorities will return them to the countries they fled to escape persecution and torture," they say.

Wednesday's filing comes as part of a lawsuit the coalition filed earlier this month in the Northern District of California. If a temporary restraining order is granted, the Trump administration would be forced to halt the practice of forcing asylum seekers who arrive in the U.S. at the southern border to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed.

Asked to comment on the filing, Justice Department spokesperson Steve Stafford referred CNN to a statement he made last week asserting that "Congress has explicitly authorized the Department of Homeland Security to return aliens arriving from a contiguous foreign territory to that territory during that alien's immigration court proceedings. The Department of Justice will defend the Department of Homeland Security's lawful actions in court."

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Razor wire tops the U.S.-Mexico border fence on November 16, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. A coalition of immigration groups is working to block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they wait for their asylum claims in the U.S. to be processed John Moore/Getty
Immigration Groups Attempt to Block Trump Administration's 'Remain in Mexico' Policy | U.S.