Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:19-cv-00807-RS
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 19-15716
U.S. Supreme Court, No. 19-1212

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it?

In January 2019 the administration launched the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) and has forcibly returned over 65,000 asylum seekers to await their U.S. immigration court dates in perilous conditions in Mexico. This unprecedented action denies asylum seekers full and fair access to the U.S. asylum system and returns them to a country where they face violence, dire human rights conditions, and possible refoulement to their countries of origin. A screening process instituted by U.S. authorities that is supposed to identify people who would be at risk of persecution or torture if returned to Mexico and allow them to stay in the United States instead is completely inadequate. People subject to MPP are easily targeted in dangerous Mexican border towns by criminal gangs intent on robbery, kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder. Local officials and civil society organizations are not able to provide protection, food, shelter, medical care, education, or employment to the asylum seekers as they wait for months while their immigration court cases move slowly through the system, nor can U.S. legal service providers effectively help them prepare their cases.

What’s the status of this case?

We won a preliminary injunction in April 2019 which would have temporarily halted MPP. But that injunction was stayed by the Ninth Circuit pending resolution of the administration’s appeal, allowing the policy to remain in effect. In February 2020 the Ninth Circuit restored the preliminary injunction we had won against the policy, clearly and unequivocally stating that MPP is unlawful and likely to violate our nation’s international refugee commitments. However, the Supreme Court has granted the government’s request for a stay, allowing the policy to remain in effect pending Supreme Court review, which may not reach a decision until 2021. People are now having to wait even longer because immigration court hearings have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whose life is at stake?

One of our plaintiffs is Dennis Doe (a pseudonym to protect his identity), a young man from Honduras who fled death threats from the MS-13 gang because he refused to join them. He went first to another part of Honduras, but the gang sent him a note saying they knew where he was and his life was in danger. The same gang killed a close friend of Dennis’s. Dennis fled to the United States to ask for asylum but has been forced to stay in Mexico while his case goes on. He is terrified there because MS-13 gang members, identifiable by their tattoos, move freely about Tijuana. Dennis is afraid that the people who were trying to kill him in Honduras will find him in Mexico. When he was interviewed by a U.S. asylum officer regarding his case, he was not asked if it was possible or safe for him to remain in Mexico. Dennis continues to wait in Mexico in fear and desperation.

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. We represent eleven individual asylum seekers as well as six non-profit legal services and advocacy organizations: Innovation Law Lab, Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado, and the Tahirih Justice Center. Several organizations and individuals have filed amicus briefs in this case including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; the asylum officers union; former government officials; Human Rights First; and Amnesty International USA, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin America Working Group, and IMUMI.

How can you help?

Visit our Action Page to learn more about how you can support asylum seekers. You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information?

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator, at

Resources for Advocates

CGRS has produced several resources to support attorneys representing clients impacted by MPP and other policies affecting asylum seekers at the border. Click here to request materials relevant to your client’s case.

Legal Documents

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - U.S. Supreme Court Stay Order, March 11, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Respondents’ Opposition To Application For Stay, March 9, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Declaration from Former CBP Commissioner, March 8, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Ninth Circuit Stay Order, March 4, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Appellees’ response to appellants’ emergency motion, March 2, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Ninth Circuit Temporary Stay Order, February 28, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf - Ninth Circuit Ruling, February 28, 2020

Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan - Amicus Briefs to the Ninth Circuit from Amnesty International, the UN High Commissioner for RefugeesHuman Rights Firstformer U.S. government officials, and labor union Local 1924, June 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan - Appellees' Answering Brief, June 19, 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. McAleenan - Ninth Circuit Stay Ruling, May 7, 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen - Order Granting Motion For Preliminary Injunction, April 8, 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen - Preliminary Injunction Reply Brief, March 7, 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen - TRO Motion, February 20, 2019

Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen – Complaint, February 14, 2019

Press Releases

CGRS Comment on SCOTUS Order in Remain in Mexico Challenge | Mar 12, 2020

CGRS Comment on Ninth Circuit Order in Remain in Mexico Challenge | Mar 05, 2020

CGRS Comment on Temporary Stay in Challenge to Forced Return Policy | Feb 29, 2020

Ninth Circuit Halts Trump administration’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | Feb 28, 2020

Immigrant Rights Groups: Congress Must Investigate Separation and Suffering Caused by Remain in Mexico Policy | Jul 12, 2019

CGRS Comment on Ruling in Lawsuit Challenging Forced Return Policy | May 08, 2019

Federal Court Blocks Trump’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | Apr 08, 2019

Groups in Federal Court to Challenge Trump’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | Mar 22, 2019

Groups File Lawsuit Against Trump Policy Forcibly Returning Asylum Seekers to Mexico | Feb 14, 2019

CGRS Responds to Implementation of Illegal Migrant Protection Protocols | Jan 28, 2019

CGRS Condemns Illegal Migration Protection Protocols | Dec 20, 2018

Select Media Coverage

“Appeals Court Allows ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy to Continue Blocking Migrants at the Border,” Miriam Jordan, New York Times, March 4, 2020

“Appeals court in SF grants Trump emergency stay of its ruling in asylum-seeker case,” Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2020

“Appeals Court Blocks Trump's Remain-in-Mexico Asylum Policy,” Brent Kendall and Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2020

“Report: Trump immigration policy forced hundreds of babies to wait indefinitely in Mexico,” Vanessa Taylor, Mic, October 11, 2019

"The Trump Administration Has Placed 48,000 Asylum Seekers in Harm’s Way. The Courts Must Step In Now," Karen Musalo and Brianna Krong, Ms., October 3, 2019

“Trump Administration Can Keep Sending Asylum Seekers to Mexico, Court Rules,” Miriam Jordan, New York Times, May 7, 2019

“Federal judge blocks Trump administration from sending asylum seekers to Mexico,” Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune, April 8, 2019

“Judge Hears Arguments On Federal Policy Keeping Asylum Seekers In Mexico,” SF Gate, March 22, 2019

“Border Purgatory: Trump Administration’s Latest Effort to Deter Refugees,” Isaac Bloch and Anne Dutton, Refugees Deeply, February 22, 2019

“Lawsuit challenges Trump plan keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico until case decided,” Alan Gomez, USA Today, February 14, 2019