CGRS Brings Legal Challenges Against Unlawful Border Expulsions

(June 2020) - For the past three months, the Trump Administration has weaponized the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate its attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers, introducing increasingly exclusionary policies. In March the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an unprecedented order that has empowered officials to indiscriminately “expel” people seeking asylum at our southern border, turning them away and denying them their right to seek asylum under the pretext of public health concerns.

This policy was introduced in March as a purportedly temporary measure to control the spread of COVID-19. But in May the CDC announced an extension of its order allowing expulsions to continue indefinitely, even as the White House pressures states and businesses to reopen.

Public health and legal experts alike have decried this policy as yet another shameful attempt by the Trump Administration to circumvent its legal commitments to refugees. In April CGRS led more than 180 immigrant rights and domestic violence advocacy organizations in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, urging the agency to immediately halt expulsions of asylum seekers. We also submitted a public comment opposing the underlying CDC order.

But the policy has continued, and to date the Administration has carried out over 40,000 expulsions, returning tens of thousands of asylum seekers and unaccompanied children to Mexico, or deporting them to their home countries to face the very dangers they have fled.

Earlier this month, CGRS brought the first legal challenges against this cruel and dangerous policy. With our co-counsel at the ACLU, Oxfam, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, we have filed lawsuits on behalf of two asylum-seeking children subject to the policy, 13-year-old G.Y.J.P. and 16-year-old J.B.B.C.

G.Y.J.P. fled El Salvador after being threatened by multiple gang members, one of whom attempted to force her into a relationship with him. Upon arriving at the border alone G.Y.J.P. told officials that she feared for her life in El Salvador. She provided them with the phone number of her mother, who lives in New York, and asked that they call her. Instead, in a stunning display of brutality, border agents used a dog to chase G.Y.J.P. into the Rio Grande.

Officials then used the CDC order as justification to fly G.Y.J.P. back to El Salvador in the dead of night. She has since gone into hiding and her mother, desperate to reunite with G.Y.J.P., fears for her daughter’s safety. “No parent wants their child to undertake such a journey [to the border],” she told CBS. “But there’s a bigger danger where they are fleeing.” With our co-counsel CGRS is demanding that the Trump Administration return G.Y.J.P. to the United States and allow her to pursue her asylum case in safety.

After J.B.B.C. witnessed another young man’s murder, gang members in Honduras began making threats on his life. J.B.B.C. fled north, hoping to find safety in the United States with his father. Instead, border agents denied J.B.B.C. any opportunity to present his asylum claim and prepared to put him on a deportation flight.

With our co-counsel CGRS stepped in and secured a temporary restraining order blocking J.B.B.C.’s deportation the night before his flight was scheduled. On June 24 a federal judge extended that order, allowing J.B.B.C. to remain here while his lawsuit is pending. We’re demanding that the Trump Administration provide J.B.B.C. a fair opportunity to apply for asylum, safe with his father in the United States.

Through these lawsuits CGRS is fighting to secure justice for our clients, and to establish the illegality of the CDC order that has allowed the Trump Administration to endanger so many asylum seekers, including children like G.Y.J.P. and J.B.B.C.

To learn more about the Trump Administration’s expulsions of asylum seekers, check out CGRS’s factsheet, available in both English and Spanish.

Photo credit: Herika Martinez / AFP