Since at least 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have blocked access to the ports of entry along the Southern border for people seeking asylum. The SPLC joined a class action lawsuit in 2018 as co-counsel to stop this unlawful conduct that imperils the lives of asylum seekers.
A second amended complaint was filed on Nov. 13, 2018, on behalf of the legal and humanitarian aid group Al Otro Lado and a class of individuals who sought or will seek access to the U.S. asylum process at ports of entry. It links high-level Trump administration officials to an official “Turnback Policy” that has unlawfully denied people access to the asylum process based on purported – but ultimately untrue – assertions that there is a lack of “capacity” to process them. This unlawful policy was designed to serve the Trump administration’s stated goal of deterring Black and Brown migrants from seeking asylum in the United States.
The second amended complaint describes how CBP used lies, threats, coercion, physical abuse, outright denials of access, racial discrimination and the use of “metering” waitlists to violate the plaintiffs’ rights under U.S. and international law. In March 2018, for example, four Guatemalan asylum seekers at an El Paso, Texas, port of entry were turned away after CBP officials told them that “Guatemalans make us sick.” Many desperate asylum seekers resorted to entering the United States between ports despite the dangers, often by swimming the Rio Grande or paying smugglers exorbitant sums.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California largely denied the government’s motion to dismiss the second amended complaint on Aug. 20, 2018. Almost a year later, the Trump administration implemented an asylum ban in July 2019 that effectively blocked people who passed through another country on their way to the United States from seeking asylum. The SPLC and its partners filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the ban from being applied to people who would have entered the U.S. before the ban went into effect if CBP had not turned them away at the border.
The court granted the motion for preliminary injunction on Nov. 19, 2019. The government filed two appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, both of which were later dismissed as moot.
On Sept. 2, 2021, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, holding that turnbacks violate the Administrative Procedure Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court concluded that under U.S. law, border agents are obligated to inspect and process people arriving at ports of entry and provide them with a fair and meaningful opportunity to seek asylum – including people who have not crossed the border but are approaching the port of entry.
On Aug. 5, 2022, the court entered a declaratory judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor. The district court also converted the preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction on Aug. 5, 2022.
For more information regarding relief for people who were subjected to metering and then deemed ineligible for asylum under the asylum ban, please see the Class Notice (English), Translated Class Notice (Spanish, Amharic, Farsi, K’iche’, Mam, and Tigrinya) and motion to reopen templates.
An appeal of the judgment is currently pending before the 9th Circuit.