May 7, 2019 – In a disappointing decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted the federal government’s emergency motion for a stay pending decision of the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

This ruling means that, for now, the government may continue to forcibly return asylum seekers to dangerous conditions in Mexico while the federal case, Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan, is fought in court.

“We disagree with the court’s characterization of Mexico’s commitment to protecting the human rights of those returned under MPP,” said Stephen Manning, Executive Director. “Our experience everyday on the ground at the border, in court, and in the shelters confirms what is apparent to everyone: Remain in Mexico is a lethal policy that pushes vulnerable people into a dangerous places without any due process.”

In February 2019, the Innovation Law Lab and others sued in federal court to prevent the forcible return of asylum seekers without due process. Though a lower court found MPP to be in violation of U.S. law nearly a month ago and issued a preliminary injunction, the injunction was subsequently stayed, allowing the program to move forward. The Trump Administration appealed to the Ninth Circuit seeking permission to continue implementing the MPP.  

Even while ultimately granting the government’s motion for a stay, the panel’s three separate opinions each acknowledged the grim reality that the asylum-seeking plaintiffs in this case “fear substantial injury upon return to Mexico.”

In separate concurrences, Judges William Fletcher and Paul Watford expressed serious reservations about the legality of MPP. Judge Fletcher forcefully explained that the “Government is wrong. Not just arguably wrong, but clearly and flagrantly wrong.” He characterized the government’s arguments as “unprecedented” and based on “an unnatural” and “impossible” reading of the law.

Judge Watford expressed his view that “DHS has adopted procedures so ill-suited to achieving that stated goal as to render them arbitrary and capricious” under the law, and even concluded that “it seems likely that the plaintiffs will succeed in establishing that DHS’s procedures for implementing the MPP are arbitrary and capricious” in certain aspects.

Under Remain in Mexico, thousands of individuals, including families, have been forcibly returned to Mexico without due process. Though the federal government claims asylum seekers are screened for safety concerns prior to return, advocates and asylum officers alike have raised concerns about this process.

A recent report confirms what Innovation Law Lab staff have experienced on the ground: asylum officers are pressured into signing paperwork indicating the asylum seeker will be safe in Mexico. As one officer said, “I’m not adjudicating that case. It’s like someone else sticking their hand inside me, like a glove.” Furthermore, there is no avenue for asylum seekers affected by MPP to challenge the U.S. government’s decision to send them back.

The Trump Administration continues to push other policies to dismantle the asylum process, such as using border patrol officers to screen asylum applicants, instead of trained asylum officers. These policies are cruel and needlessly place the lives of migrants in danger.

Plaintiffs in Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan include Innovation Law Lab, Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Al Otro Lado, Tahirih Justice Center, and 11 asylum seekers affected by the policy in question. Legal counsel is provided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS).

Read the Ninth Circuit decision here.

Learn more about the background of the suit here.

For media inquiries contact:

Ramon Valdez, (971) 238-1804,