The couple at the center of the suit was driven out of Guatemala by criminal gangs that raped their daughter after they refused to give in to extortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is filing a class action against Customs and Border Protection.
The lawsuit, says KPBS News, criticizes the treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers enveloped by Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols. The MPPs, often called ‘Remain in Mexico,’ allows the CBP to return certain asylum-seekers to Mexico while their applications are processed. Critics have said the program endangers refugees, who face exploitation from criminal gangs on the southern side of the border.
According to KBPS, the plaintiffs in the suit are a Guatemalan family of seven, stuck in legal limbo. Party to the MPPs, the family had a court hearing in San Diego on Tuesday. They were kept in Customs and Border Protection custody after saying they feared persecution if they were return to Mexico.
Under ‘Remain in Mexico,’ migrants who say they’re afraid to go back to Mexico are supposed to be given a ‘non-refoulement interview.’ It provides them an opportunity to explain their reservations and to make a case for staying in the United States while their application is processed.
However, since being taken into CBP custody, the family’s fallen off the map. Their attorneys say they can’t find their clients—not in a particular jail cell, detention center or state.
Like other asylum-seekers, the family can’t easily access an attorney or other legal counsel—despite the fact that Customs and Border Protection agents are likely interviewing them about their fear of return o Mexico.
And that, says the ACLU, is particularly worrying.
“That’s part of the problem, right?” said ACLU staff attorney Monika Langarica. “Lawyers don’t have access to their clients. They don’t know where their clients are being taken. The lawyer’s request for information go unanswered [sic]. We don’t know where they’re being held right now.”
The ACLU says that, by denying migrants on U.S. soil access to an attorney, the Border Protection is curtailing their civil rights.
“We’re also filing this case because the right to access a lawyer, the right to consult with a lawyer, and the right to access an attorney is fundamental to who we are as a country,” said Norma Chavez Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties.
In Guatemala, the plaintiffs say they were extorted by local gangs. Unable to meet their demands, the couple’s 17-year old daughter was raped and threatened. They left the country in April, but endured further attacks in Mexico.
When they were turned away by Border Protection, the family worried they wouldn’t be safe in Tijuana, a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Chavez Peterson added that the kinds of problems faced by the ACLU’s Guatemalan clients are a consequence of irresponsible, aggressive policy-making.
“The Trump administration is waging an all-out assault on immigrants and refugees, and this was from his campaign to his inauguration and every single day in his administration,” she said. “His administration has done just about all that he can do to sabotage not just our asylum process, but really go after immigrants and refugees, including those in the Remain in Mexico program or MPP.”