March 19, 2019 – This Friday, Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen will be heard in federal court. The case seeks to overturn the Trump Administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico to await the outcomes of their immigration cases. Since the policy’s implementation in late January, asylum seekers—including children—have been sent back to Mexico almost daily.
Innovation Law Lab attorneys and staff, in partnership with Al Otro Lado and other legal advocacy organizations, have been working at the border to identify and interview asylum seekers who were returned to Mexico. Many of those returned have expressed bewilderment and dread over the prospect of remaining in Tijuana, where migrants routinely face abuse and violence.
Testimony from nearly a dozen asylum seekers formed the basis of the lawsuit filed in federal court on February 14, 2019. Three of those stories are shared below.
On the journey from Honduras to the U.S. border, Howard Doe recounted narrowly escaping escaping Los Zetas, a drug cartel in Mexico, that kidnapped him and other migrants. “The armed men would intimidate us with their guns and tell us they were going to kill us and burn our bodies so that no could could find our bodies.”
When Howard presented himself at a port of entry to request asylum, he thought he would finally be safe from the reach of Los Zetas. “I told the asylum officer all of this,” he said. “I wanted to refuse to go back to Mexico, but I was afraid that they might punish me for speaking up. I had already said many times that I was afraid to go back to Mexico, and nobody seemed to care.”
Despite sharing his fears with a U.S. immigration officer, Howard was still selected for return to Mexico to await the outcome of his asylum case. Los Zetas is known for torturing and killing those who evade them, and Howard fears that as long as he remains in Mexico, he will be a target.
Bianca Doe knows her only option for survival is to petition for asylum in the U.S. “In Honduras, if you are a lesbian, you may as well be dead.”
When Bianca was a teenager, she was raped and became pregnant. “He told me that he did this because I am a lesbian and love women,” she recalled.
Shortly after her son was born, the child’s father sued her for custody. “When we went to court, the judge said that, because of my sexual orientation, I am not a fit mother and would not raise my son correctly… When my family found out that I was a lesbian, they supported my son’s father in the custody battle.”
In spite of the challenges faced by lesbians in Honduras, Bianca found companionship and love with another woman. Once her girlfriend’s father found out about their relationship, he became enraged and beat his daughter. He then drove his daughter and Bianca to a location near the Honduras-Guatemala border. “He parked the car and threatened me that unless I left Honduras, he would kill me and that he would also kill my partner, his daughter,” Bianca said. “I had no choice but to leave. I got out of the car and walked across the border right then and there.”
Prior to presenting herself at a port of entry, Bianca connected with Cristian Sanchez, an attorney at RAICES, who provided her with a letter requesting she not be returned to Mexico, as well as an index of documents on country conditions in Honduras. However, she was never given the opportunity to present these documents or even bring them with her to her interview with an immigration officer.
Bianca is now living in a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers, where she—like so many others—continues to hope she will one day be admitted into the U.S. “I am alone and I also fear for my safety when I leave the safe house because the border zone is very dangerous, particularly for women and members of the LGBTQ community like me.”
An indigenous man from Guatemala, John sought asylum in the U.S. after being threatened and severely beaten by the Ronderos de San Juan, a death squad that controls his hometown. His journey was a difficult one, marked by a close encounter with a drug cartel that boarded a train he was traveling on. “Not only do I feel unsafe here as an asylum seeker, I am afraid that narcotraffickers will find me and kill me… During my entire time on the U.S. side of the border, no one ever asked me if I was afraid of being returned to Mexico.”
John also worries he will not be able to adequately prepare for his asylum hearing. Had he been permitted to remain in the U.S., he could have been released to stay with his family, including U.S.-citizen siblings who live in California. Instead, he remains far from their support with his legal case and more.
John was among the first asylum seekers to be returned to Mexico as a result of the Trump Administration’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols.” He fears for his life and safety as he moves between shelters in Tijuana, Mexico. That fear has only intensified since he was briefly admitted into the United States, with the promise of refuge and reunification with his family, only to be sent back across the border.
To read the suit filed on February 14, 2019, click here.
To read declarations filed by plaintiffs, including the individuals mentioned in this post, click here.
For media inquiries about the suit, contact:
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, 212-284-7347, email@example.com
Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brianna Krong, CGRS, 415-581-8835, email@example.com
For inquiries about Innovation Law Lab, contact:
Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, 971-801-6047, firstname.lastname@example.org