Together with the National ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas, Public Citizen Litigation Group, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, we filed suit on behalf of 26 asylum seekers—12 adults and their 14 minor children—who are unlawfully trapped in life-threatening conditions in Mexico, while they wait for their asylum proceedings in the United States to conclude. Plaintiffs all fled violence and persecution in their home countries and sought refuge in the United States. But the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) sent them back across the border to the notoriously dangerous Mexican border state of Tamaulipas and has forced them to remain there while their removal proceedings are pending.

Plaintiffs have endured—and continue to endure—unspeakable horrors in Tamaulipas. They have been assaulted, kidnapped, and raped by members of organized groups that control Tamaulipas and act with impunity. Plaintiffs live in constant fear of additional such attacks, afraid to go out except when absolutely necessary.

Plaintiffs were returned to Mexico pursuant to DHS’s so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (“MPP”), protocols first implemented in late January 2019. Under MPP, DHS returns to Mexico certain non-Mexican asylum seekers who arrive at the United States’ southern border and does not permit them to remain in the United States, pending adjudication of their immigration cases. In July 2019, DHS expanded MPP to the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, sending individuals from the United States back to Tamaulipas (“MPP-Tamaulipas”), notwithstanding widespread recognition, including by the U.S. Department of State, of the extreme violence that migrants face there.

Under MPP-Tamaulipas, DHS returns to Tamaulipas certain individuals who present themselves at ports of entry in Texas, including Laredo, McAllen, and Brownsville—as well as individuals who enter without inspection near these ports. DHS requires these individuals to remain in Mexico pending their removal hearings, which are scheduled in U.S. immigration courts at the ports of entry in Laredo or Brownsville, Texas. In order to gain entry to the U.S. for their hearings, they must show up on the bridges that connect the Mexican cities of Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, with Laredo and Brownsville respectively. If they fail to show up for their hearings, they are ordered removed.

DHS’s decision to expand MPP to Tamaulipas—a region that has been under a State Department “Do Not Travel” Advisory since at least 2018, and that is known as one of the most violent and lawless regions in the world—affirmatively places returned asylum seekers, like the 26 plaintiffs, in immediate and continuing danger, and returns them to extreme harm, including persecution and torture. In addition to the illegality of MPP itself, Defendants’ decision to expand MPP to Tamaulipas was unlawful, including because Defendants failed to consider the dangerous conditions in Tamaulipas. For similar reasons, Defendants’ return of each of the Plaintiffs to Tamaulipas violates their due process right to be free from state-created danger. Defendants knew or should have known of the extraordinary dangers facing people they returned to Tamaulipas, and were—at a minimum—deliberately indifferent to the shocking dangers Plaintiffs faced.

For example, Defendants returned Plaintiff Nora (a pseudonym) and her three-year-old son to Tamaulipas even after she described how, in Tamaulipas, she was repeatedly raped her in front of her son, and her rapists threatened to kill him if she resisted. Plaintiff Jonathan (a pseudonym) and his young son were returned to Tamaulipas notwithstanding Jonathan’s brutal torture in Tamaulipas by cartel members.

We seek a declaration that the government acted unlawfully under the Administrative Procedure Act and violated plaintiffs’ rights under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution by returning them to Tamaulipas pending their removal proceedings. We also seek a declaration that defendants acted unlawfully by expanding MPP to Tamaulipas. We ask the Court to set aside MPP-Tamaulipas and the decisions to return each of the plaintiffs to Mexico, and to order DHS to remove each of them from MPP and to allow them to return immediately to the United States—with appropriate precautionary public health measures—to pursue their asylum proceedings from inside the United States.

Ruling on our request for preliminary relief in June 2020, the court granted one of our clients a new screening to determine whether she faced persecution if returned to Tamaulipas, but deferred the request for broader relief until final judgment on the full record, which the court ordered to occur on an expedited basis.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Public Citizen Litigation Group; Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

Date filed

April 14, 2020

Court

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Status

Open