A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups is asking a federal judge for a restraining order that would block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases make their way through US immigration courts.
In a motion filed Wednesday, advocates argued that the administration’s new policy – which officials started rolling out in Tijuana last month – causes irreparable harm and places vulnerable asylum seekers’ lives at risk.
Asylum seekers, the organizations said in court documents, “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.”
CNN has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for comment.
Asked to comment on Wednesday’s filing, Justice Department spokesman Steve Stafford pointed to the statement he issued in response to the lawsuit.
“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,” Stafford said in a statement last week. “The Department of Justice will defend the Department of Homeland Security’s lawful actions in court.”
The filing is the latest step in a lawsuit the groups filed earlier this month in the Northern District of California. If US District Judge Richard Seeborg grants a temporary restraining order, officials would be required to halt the policy while the case makes its way through court.
“The President himself has, on numerous occasions, cited the dangerous situation on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border,” Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, said in a statement. “Every moment it is in place, lives are in danger.”
Eleven migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States and were returned to Mexico under the policy are also plaintiffs in the case.
Those migrants have already suffered attacks and threats in Mexico and shouldn’t be sent back there, according to a memo their attorneys filed in court Wednesday.
“None of them were asked if they have a fear in Mexico,” said Judy Rabinovitz, the American Civil Liberties Union’s lead attorney in the case.
The court filing comes as officials have suggested they plan to expand the policy, which immigrant rights groups argue violates US and international law.
“It’s got to be stopped,” Rabinovitz told CNN. “It’s illegal and inhuman, and hopefully that’s what the judge will do.”
The administration has dubbed the policy “Migrant Protection Protocols” and has argued they “help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need.”
So far, the policy has been applied only to undocumented migrants who’ve sought asylum at the port of entry near San Diego, but officials have said they intend to expand it to other sites along the border.
As of last Thursday, 93 people had been processed and returned to Mexico under the policy, including 13 families, according to a Department of Homeland Security official, who said at the time that the number of people returned was likely to grow.
Organizations challenging the policy in the lawsuit include the Innovation Law Lab, the Central American Resource Center of Northern California, the Centro Legal de la Raza, the Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic at the University of San Francisco School of Law, Al Otro Lado and the Tahirih Justice Center.
Attorneys from the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies are among the lawyers representing them.