Asylum seekers gather in Tijuana in 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

Jewish Family Service of San Diego is leading a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s controversial “remain in Mexico” policy to keep asylum seekers out of the United States.

The policy has forced over 60,000 refugees into what JFS describes as “precarious, life-threatening situations in Mexico” and deprived them of access to legal assistance and other tools needed to present their asylum claims.

JFS joined Los Angeles-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center as organizational plaintiffs in filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Count on behalf of eight asylum seekers.

The lawsuit seeks to facilitate the return of the eight so they can pursue their claims from inside the United States, and allow legal service groups to continue their work unencumbered on behalf of asylum seekers.

“By design, the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program strips asylum seekers of the ability, power and critical information they need to effectively seek asylum in the U.S. Asylum seekers have one chance to make their case, often with life or death consequences,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of JFS.

“Our pro bono attorneys handling ‘Remain in Mexico’ cases are forced to lawyer without direct or regular access to our clients,” he added. “And the legal labyrinth is a thousand times more daunting for asylum seekers left alone to fight their cases for themselves.”

The Trump administration policy is officially known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” though in practice it leaves refugees in Mexico without protections.

“I am very afraid for my family,” said a Honduran man who was sent back to Mexico with his wife and three children in October 2019 and is one of the individual plaintiffs. “My children cannot go to school in person because it is too dangerous. I tried to send one of my children to school, but he stopped going because the children were getting robbed by the cartels.”

Last week, the Supreme Court announced that it will review an earlier challenge to the policy based on whether it was lawfully authorized. The new lawsuit challenges the policy as it is applied to thousands of asylum seekers still in Mexico as immigration hearings have been suspended.

Beginning in 2018 and continuing until early this year, JFS led a group of San Diego nonprofits in helping thousands of migrants who were being released on the streets find shelter with friends and relatives elsewhere in the United States.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.