Court Says Turnbacks of Tens of Thousands of Asylum Seekers Are Unlawful

Court Says Turnbacks of Tens of Thousands of Asylum Seekers Are Unlawful

September 2, 2021

SAN DIEGO—A federal judge declared unlawful the U.S. government’s turnbacks of asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry along the U.S southern border. The court ruled that the United States is required by law to inspect and process asylum seekers when they present themselves at ports of entry, and condemned the practice of denying access to the asylum process through metering and similar practices.

The decision came after oral arguments were held before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant of the Southern District of California on Tuesday.

The case, Al Otro Lado v. Mayorkas, was brought 4 years ago by Al Otro Lado and a group of 13 individuals seeking asylum in the United States whom U.S. Customs and Border Protection turned back. The Center for Constitutional Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Immigration Council, and the law firm Mayer Brown challenged the policy.

Nicole Ramos, Border Rights Project Director of Al Otro Lado, said, “After over four years, a U.S. federal court concluded what our team at Al Otro Lado has known all along, that CBP's turning away of asylum seekers from ports of entry and metering are illegal and violate the rights of the individuals and families most in need of our protection. Despite DHS's lies about their capacity to process asylum seekers, the reasons behind why metering exists, and the agency's destruction of evidence in the case, today the rule of law and justice prevail.”

Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “This is such an important victory for our heroic partners at Al Otro Lado, who have fought for asylum seekers for years against every variation of government lie, denial, and abuse of power. The decision will protect thousands of vulnerable people at the border.”

Melissa Crow, Senior Supervising Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “This decision affirms what people fleeing persecution and immigrant rights advocates have argued for years: the U.S. government’s denial of access to the asylum process at ports of entry is blatantly illegal. The Court properly recognized the extensive human costs of metering, including the high risk of assault, disappearance, and death, when CBP officers flout their duty to inspect and process asylum seekers and instead force them to wait in Mexico.”

“Turning back asylum seekers at ports of entry unconstitutionally stripped people of their right under U.S. law to access the asylum process in the United States. Ports of entry are a critical part of our nation's asylum system and serve as the front door for arriving asylum seekers. Today's decision underscores that the government may not simply shut that door and deny asylum seekers this right. The law protects asylum seekers arriving at our doorstep as it does those who stepped over the threshold. CBP must inspect and process arriving asylum seekers,” said Karolina Walters, senior attorney at American Immigration Council.

“Today’s decision is not just a victory for justice and the rule of law, it takes a significant step towards ending a troubling chapter in our nation’s history,” said Stephen Medlock, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP.  “Under the turnback policy that was at issue in this case, the very government officials that should have been welcoming and assisting victims of persecution and torture were told to turn them away from the United States.  The district court found that to be unequivocally illegal.”

For more information, visit the Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights and American Immigration Council.

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For more information, contact:

Maria Frausto at the American Immigration Council, [email protected] or 202-507-7526; Marion Steinfels at SPLC,  [email protected] or 202-557-0430; Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, 212-614-6449, [email protected]; Melissa Flores, Al Otro Lado, [email protected], 213-444-6081.

Media Contact

Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 

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