U.T. v. Barr

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-00116

UPDATE: The Biden administration has suspended and initiated processes to terminate the Trump-era agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The litigation remains pending as the parties explore settlement.

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

The Trump administration signed “Asylum Cooperative Agreements” with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to enable U.S. border officials to remove asylum seekers to these countries rather than hear their claims in the United States. Although U.S. law does provide for transferring an asylum seeker to a “safe third country” (not their home country, and not the United States), it requires that the asylum seeker actually be safe in that country and have access to a full and fair asylum procedure.

We are challenging the November 2019 rule that provides a procedural framework for current and future Asylum Cooperative Agreements, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidance to asylum officers on the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement, and the government’s categorical designations of Guatemala as a safe third country. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras utterly fail to meet the criteria of safety and lack functioning asylum systems. None of these countries has the capacity to handle more than a minuscule number of asylum claims and all are plagued with rampant gender- and gang-related violence and other civil and political unrest that has forced thousands of their own citizens to seek asylum in the United States.

What’s the status of this case?

The case is pending a decision by the District Court for the District of Columbia on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. We filed the initial complaint in January 2020. While the case is pending, this policy is in effect.

Whose life is at stake?

The plaintiffs in U.T. v. Barr include some of the first asylum seekers subjected to the Asylum Cooperative Agreement with Guatemala, for example, H.R., a mother who fled El Salvador after gang members killed two of her siblings and attempted to force her teenage daughter into a sexual relationship. When H.R. and her children finally reached the U.S. border and asked for protection, an asylum officer told them they were going to be transferred to Guatemala under the new Agreement.

H.R.’s family had been extorted by Guatemalan police officers when they passed through the country en route to the U.S. border. She begged the asylum officer to let them stay in the United States, where she knew they would be safe – to no avail. After the U.S. forcibly returned H.R. to Guatemala, she was given only 72 hours to decide whether she wanted to apply for asylum there. H.R. felt just as unsafe as she had in El Salvador, and she had no family or resources in Guatemala. She knew she had no choice but to return home. Back in El Salvador, H.R. and her family continue to live in fear of the gangs whose threats forced them to flee in the first place.

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, and the National Immigrant Justice Center. Organizational plaintiffs are the Tahirih Justice Center and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. A number of organizations have filed amicus briefs including the asylum officers’ union, several states, Refugees International, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, and RAICES.

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 krongbrianna@uchastings.edu.

Resources for Advocates

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

Legal Documents

U.T. v. Barr - Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment and Permanent Injunction, March 2, 2020

U.T. v. Barr - Complaint, January 15, 2020

Press Releases

Groups File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Trump administration’s So-Called ‘Safe Third Country’ Asylum Policy | Jan 15, 2020

CGRS Decries New Rule to Deport Asylum Seekers to Guatemala | Nov 19, 2019

U.S. Agreement with El Salvador Will Endanger Asylum Seekers | Sep 23, 2019

CGRS Decries “Safe Third Country” Agreement with Guatemala | Jul 28, 2019

Select Media Coverage

“Gay Salvadoran asylum seeker sues Trump administration for deporting him to Guatemala,” John Riley, Metro Weekly, February 11, 2020

"ACLU Sues Trump Administration for Forcing Asylum Seekers to Play 'Deadly Game of Musical Chairs' with 'Safe Third Country' Policies," Chantal Da Silva, Newsweek, January 16, 2020

"Inside the So-Called 'Safe Third' - and Trump's Latest Attack on Asylum Seekers," Karen Musalo, Ms., December 4, 2019

“Trump’s agreements in Central America could dismantle the asylum system as we know it,” Nicole Narea, Vox, September 26, 2019