Full text of remarks:

Hello everyone, I’m P.J. Podesta. I’m an Advocacy Coordinator for Innovation Law Lab based in Oakland, California.

Today I am in San Francisco, where a very important case, with the potential to impact thousands of asylum seekers, was just heard in federal court. The case is now being adjudicated and we hope to hear a decision soon.

The case is called Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen. Innovation Law Lab is the lead plaintiff, joined by several other organizations and 11 asylum seekers. We brought this lawsuit to overturn the Trump Administration’s unprecedented policy of forcing asylum seekers to return to Mexico as their cases move through immigration court.

The policy we are challenging is called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” sometimes referred to as MPP for short. The name is cruel and misleading – it is actually very dangerous to migrants. MPP is the latest attempt by the Trump Administration to deter asylum seekers from exercising their right to seek refuge in a safe country.

Why is the policy dangerous? It is well documented that migrants face danger and exploitation at the border. By forcing asylum seekers back to the border, the federal government is knowingly placing them in harm’s way. MPP is in direct violation of the humanitarian protections to which immigrants are guaranteed under not only U.S, but international, law as well.

Here’s a little background on the history of MPP. It was implemented in late January. Since then, asylum seekers have been sent back from the U.S. to Mexico on an almost daily basis. In mid-February, it was reported that not only were adults being affected by this policy, but so were children.

As soon as Innovation Law Lab and fellow legal advocates learned about this new policy, attorneys and staff went to the border to begin identifying and interviewing people affected by it. The testimonies we collected formed the basis of the case that will be heard today in court. The lawsuit was filed on February 14, 2019.

Earlier this week, the first wave of asylum seekers affected by this policy had their first court hearings. They were required to show up at Tijuana-San Diego border, where they were sent through security and were then taken into government custody to be shuttled to immigration court.

I want to tell you about one of the asylum seekers I met in Tijuana who had been sent back as a result of this policy. I met him just as he had been forcibly returned. I will never forget the mixture of shock and fear on his face.

After enduring brutal violence, he fled his home country and traveled 2,000 miles through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. In Tijuana, he was forced to wait for Customs & Border Patrol – or CBP – to allow him to ask for asylum. While he waited in a temporary shelter, he witnessed a murder, then witnessed local police do nothing to stop the assailant. Soon after, he came across body parts discarded in a nearby trash can. Surrounded by such violence, he anxiously looked forward to the day when he would be admitted to the U.S. to seek asylum.

When he was finally allowed by U.S. officials to cross the border, he was taken to what is often called a hielera, or an “icebox.” The hielera is a holding cell kept at near-freezing temperatures. Every asylum seeker, regardless of their gender, age, or health conditions passes through these hieleras when they enter the U.S.

Immigration officers rigorously questioned him, but did not once ask if he was afraid to return to Mexico. He told me afterwards that if he had been given the opportunity, he would have absolutely told them that he was afraid to return. Then – without knowing what was happening – he suddenly found himself handcuffed and returned by van to Tijuana.

I will never forget what he told me: “I am just as afraid of being in Mexico as I was in my home country.”

His story is harrowing, but unfortunately, it is not unique. Many of the migrants we met in Tijuana, including the 11 asylum seekers that join us in today’s case as plaintiffs, shared similar stories.

MPP is cut from the same cloth as the so-called “zero tolerance” policy. It is designed to cause chaos and confusion, to keep asylum seekers out no matter the cost. Regardless of the facts on the ground, the Trump Administration is now planning to expand this policy to other ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, making this ill-conceived and dangerous experiment more likely the norm.

Today, we stand in solidarity with migrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum. We know that millions of Americans stand in solidarity, too.

I want to take a moment and speak directly to those who stand in solidarity with us today: I know you are outraged at the attacks on migrants perpetrated by Trump Administration. I know you oppose the practices that aim to block the entry of asylum seekers into our country. I know you are horrified by the mass detention of immigrants across our country. And I know you are eager to welcome asylum seekers into your homes and communities. I know that you, like us, imagine a country where humanity wins out over fear.

Today’s lawsuit is an important step in the right direction. It isn’t the first time we’ve challenged the Trump Administration and it probably won’t be the last time. But with your support, Innovation Law Lab will continue to fight against policies rooted in xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism.

Thank you for being part of this fight for human rights.  

Plaintiffs in the suit 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).

For media inquiries about the suit, contact:

Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU, 212-284-7347, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org

Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org

Brianna Krong, CGRS, 415-581-8835, krongbrianna@uchastings.edu

For inquiries about Innovation Law Lab, contact:

Ramon Valdez, (971) 238-1804, ramon@innovationlawlab.org