Trump Administration Sued Over 'Secrecy' of 'Remain in Mexico' Program

The Trump administration is facing a lawsuit over its alleged "secrecy" regarding the implementation of its widely condemned Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), more colloquially known as the "Remain in Mexico" program.

The American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights Watch, and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District of California this week.

Accusing the U.S. government of secrecy around the Remain in Mexico program, which has seen tens of thousands of asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration claims are processed, the lawsuit seeks records about the implementation and handling of the policy.

Specifically, the groups behind the lawsuit want to better understand how the Migrant Protection Protocols, which the Department of Homeland Security announced in January 2019, "operate" and what "principles and agreements" actually guide the agencies responsible for the implementation of the protocols.

So far, the plaintiffs say, the DHS and its relevant agencies have failed to disclose that information, despite groups filing an FoIA request seeking those details on December 21, 2019.

Since implementing the policy the U.S. has seen nearly 65,000 people seeking asylum in the U.S. turned away to Mexico to wait for their immigration court hearings since implementing the policy, according the American Immigration Council.

Since the Remain in Mexico program began, the AIC said only around 500 people, less than 1 percent of those affected by the program, have been granted asylum in the U.S.

Meanwhile, as of February 2020, more than 1,000 cases of "murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against people placed in the program had been reported," the AIC warned in a statement.

The organization has further said that now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico face even more danger, with many made to live at camps and shelters with overcrowding and lack of access to adequate sanitation.

In a statement sent out to journalists, Emily Creighton, the legal director of transparency at the AIC, said: "The 'Remain in Mexico' program has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, compelling thousands of people to live in camps along the border in dangerous and squalid conditions."

"This FOIA suit is a way to pursue accountability as we seek to understand the impact of the MPP on uniquely vulnerable asylum seekers," Creighton said. "As challenges to MPP continue to wind through the courts, it is critically important that we have a full picture of how the program has been designed and implemented."

The AIC has further warned that asylum seekers affected by the Remain in Mexico policy also often face serious barriers in obtaining and communicating with legal counsel.

They also face difficulties in getting information about their court hearings, which have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The operation of MPP has been shrouded from public view and understanding," said Laura Lynch, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in a statement.

"We see the asylum seekers lawfully requesting a meaningful chance to have their claim to asylum heard arrive at the border and we see them shunted quickly back to dangerous conditions in Mexico," Lynch said. "But the public has not been able to see the basic procedures and decision-making processes of this terribly unjust change in policy. Despite numerous requests, including a formal FOIA inquiry, the agencies have failed to respond and thus this litigation is necessary."

Honduran asylum seeker, Christopher, 6, stands with his father on the international bridge from Mexico to the United States on December 09, 2019 in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. More than 1,000 Central American and Mexican asylum seekers have been staying, many for months, in a camp, located next to the bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, under the U.S. government's 'Remain in Mexico' program. John Moore/Getty