Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of a Guatemalan family alleges they were unfairly denied asylum, despite continuing to face threats at home.

The ACLU filed the suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties alleges that the Trump administration, in turning away thousands of people fleeing Central America through Mexico, denied them admittance, even as they faced substantial threats.

Trump’s policy is known as Migrant Protection Protocols – or the “Remain in Mexico” program.

Many migrants express their fears of being returned home during “non-refoulement interviews.” Yet officials deny them access to legal counsel despite the complex legal issues at play, according to the ACLU.

The plaintiffs, two adults and five children, fled Guatemala in April. According to the lawsuit, they left their home after being targeted for extortion, and the family’s 17-year-old daughter was raped and threatened. Her 9-year-old brother also suffered from leukemia.

In addition, men in government uniforms later assaulted and held the family at gunpoint as they traveled through Mexico. One of the men choked the teen, the suit said.

The family, despite being threatened, reported the incident to Mexican law enforcement. They received no help, according to the ACLU.

The attorneys say the plaintiffs “live in fear every day that someone will find their family and hurt them while they are forced to live in Mexico.”

In August, U.S. immigration officials in Chula Vista took the family into custody. There they requested asylum. The ACLU alleges authorities returned them to Mexico two days later. The suit said no one asked about their fears of being returned to the country.

The family has since taken part in non-refoulment interviews without legal counsel. They recently received pro bono representation by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, according to the lawsuit.

Michael Hopkins, CEO of the agency, said families in the migrant program lose access to legal services in the U.S. They also lack access to medical care and behavioral health support.

“This lawsuit is a necessary step to provide asylum seekers with due process,” he said.

Nearly 50,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under the program, according to the ACLU. Attorneys argued that it undermines “our values as a just and compassionate country.”

They added that “locking people up and forbidding them from consulting with their lawyers strikes at the very heart of our constitution.”

–City News Service

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