Court Battles

Lawsuit challenges Trump administration policy deporting asylum-seekers to Central American countries

Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's policy that allows asylum-seekers to be deported to Guatemala and soon, El Salvador and Honduras.

The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are alleging that the policies block applicants from ever receiving asylum and put them at risk by returning them to "the same dangerous region they fled," according to the lawsuit.

"The Trump administration has created a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves desperate refugees without a safe haven, in violation of U.S. and international law," Katrina Eiland, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "The administration is illegally trying to turn away asylum-seekers and pass the buck to other countries that can't protect them."

The groups argue that the policies violate the Refugee Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, and Administrative Procedure Act. The suit names government figures and agencies including Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Asylum-seekers have the right to apply to stay in the U.S. unless they can go to another safe country, but the country has to give "access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum" to be defined as safe. 

"The Rule recklessly subverts our legal framework for accepting refugees into a machinery for casting them off into circumstances as perilous as those they fled," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit cites two cases of people who were deported to Guatemala, including a gay man who fears he will be attacked for his sexual orientation and a daughter with her mother, whose common-law husband and sister-in-law were murdered in Honduras.

The National Immigrant Justice Center, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and Human Rights First joined the ACLU in filing the suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The Trump administration began sending asylum-seekers to Guatemala in November as part of a controversial program, and had sent guidance saying that Mexican asylum-seekers were to be sent there, too. Previous reporting from the Los Angeles Times indicated that the administration was also going to send asylum-seekers to Honduras, regardless of if they were from there.

DHS spokeswoman Heather Swift said the department "stand(s) behind the integrity of the program."

"While we cannot comment on litigation, the U.S. Government and the Government of Guatemala remain committed to the asylum cooperative agreement and stand behind the integrity of the program," she said in a statement to The Hill.

The Department of Justice declined to comment.

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