Challenging Customs and Border Protection's Unlawful Practice of Turning Away Asylum Seekers

Challenging Customs and Border Protection's Unlawful Practice of Turning Away Asylum Seekers

Al Otro Lado, Inc. v. Wolf, No. 3:17-cv-02366-BAS-KSC (S.D. Cal.)

STATUS:
Pending

This case challenges the government’s policy – the Turnback Policy – of turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry (POEs) across the U.S.-Mexico border since 2016.

The plaintiffs in the case are Al Otro Lado, a non-profit legal services organization that serves indigent deportees, migrants and refugees in Los Angeles and Tijuana, along with individual, courageous asylum seekers who experienced CBP’s unlawful conduct firsthand. Their experiences demonstrate that CBP has used a variety of tactics – including misrepresentation, threats and intimidation, verbal abuse and physical force, metering, and coercion–to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims.

In April 2018, the government issued guidance formalizing and focusing the Turnback Policy through a policy of metering. Under the metering policy, CBP officials assert a lack of capacity and refuse to inspect and process asylum seekers, forcing them to wait in Mexico.

The complaint alleges that CBP’s refusal to allow asylum seekers access to the asylum process violates the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the doctrine of non-refoulement under international law.

Plaintiffs are represented by the American Immigration Council, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Mayer Brown LLP.

A class certification motion currently is pending with the district court. The motion seeks to certify a class consisting of “all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a Class A [port of entry] on the U.S.-Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of [CBP] officials on or after January 1, 2016.” In addition, Plaintiffs seek to certify a sub-class consisting of “all noncitizens who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process at a Class A POE on the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of Defendants’ metering policy on or after January 1, 2016.”

Preliminary Injunction Addressing the Intersection of Metering and the Application of the Asylum Transit Ban

While this case has been pending, and asylum seekers remain stranded in Mexico under the Turnback Policy, the Trump administration issued an interim final rule (the “Asylum Ban”) barring individuals from asylum eligibility in the United States if they transited through a third country and did not seek protection there first. On September 26, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction and a motion seeking provisional class certification asking the district court to keep Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to provisional class members, in order to maintain their eligibility for asylum until the court rules on the legality of the Trump administration’s metering policy in this case.

On November 19, 2019, the court provisionally certified a class consisting of “all non-Mexican asylum seekers who were unable to make a direct asylum claim at a U.S. [port of entry] before July 16, 2019 because of the U.S. Government’s metering policy, and who continue to seek access to the U.S. asylum process.” The court also blocked Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to members of the provisional class and ordered that Defendants apply pre-Asylum Ban practices for processing the asylum applications of members of the class. 

On December 4, 2019, Defendants appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 5, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied Defendants’ motion for a stay of the order until the appellate court decides the merits of the appeal. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit lifted its previously imposed emergency temporary stay of the order. At this time, the district court’s order is in effect.

Class counsel prepared a Frequently Asked Questions resource to address common questions about the court’s order, class membership, and implementation.  The FAQ resource will be updated with developments and is available here.

Follow this case:

November 15, 2017

It is an egregious, well-documented reality that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) frequently turns away people seeking asylum along the U.S. southern border. But new evidence presented to...

  • July 30, 2019
    A federal district court has rejected the government’s second attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's unlawful turnbacks of asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border – including its attempt to choke off asylum applications through a so-called “metering” process.
  • February 27, 2019
    The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the American Immigration Council filed a motion late last week seeking information regarding possible U.S. government harassment and retaliation against the leadership of the immigrants’ rights organization Al Otro Lado.
  • November 14, 2017
    An immigrant rights group, Los Angeles-based Al Otro Lado, and six asylum seekers filed a motion for class certification in their lawsuit challenging the government’s practice of depriving vulnerable asylum seekers of access to the U.S. asylum process in clear violation of U.S. and international law.
  • January 13, 2017
    A coalition of immigrant and civil rights groups filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on behalf of numerous adult men and women, families and unaccompanied children who, over the past several months, were denied entry to the United States at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border despite having asserted a fear of returning to their home countries or an intention to seek asylum under U.S. law.
  • July 12, 2017

    Washington D.C. - Today an immigrant rights group and several asylum seekers filed a class action lawsuit against officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S.

  • October 16, 2018
    In a new court filing, asylum seekers and an immigrant rights group are challenging the Trump administration’s policy and practice of turning back asylum seekers at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border
  • September 26, 2019
    Immigrant rights attorneys moved to block the Trump administration’s Asylum Ban from affecting tens of thousands of migrants who have already attempted to access the U.S. asylum process before the ban was implemented. With limited exceptions, the Asylum Ban prohibits anyone who traveled through a third country and did not seek protection there from obtaining asylum here. The request filed today is in the ongoing case challenging the Trump administration’s policy of turning back asylum seekers at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, including the “metering” policy.
  • November 19, 2019
    A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s asylum ban from being applied to thousands of asylum seekers who were unlawfully prevented from accessing the U.S. asylum process before the ban was implemented.
  • December 6, 2019
    Immigrant rights attorneys filed an emergency motion to block the government from applying another Trump administration rule to asylum seekers forced by a government policy known as “metering” to wait in Mexico to access the U.S. asylum process. The rule — the latest of the administration’s numerous attempts to eviscerate America’s asylum system — sends asylum seekers to third countries, including Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to seek protection and would deny those previously subject to the government’s metering policy the opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.
  • March 5, 2020
    A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel today blocked the Trump administration’s asylum transit ban from being applied to thousands of asylum seekers who were unlawfully prevented from accessing the U.S. asylum process before the ban was implemented. The decision lifts a prior administrative stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction. That injunction prohibits the government from applying the asylum ban to those who had been illegally metered before the ban went into effect.
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