In March 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the law firm Fish & Richardson P.C., filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of three Massachusetts families with loved ones who were stranded in Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP). ACLUM later added three additional families, comprising seven asylum seekers stranded in Mexico under MPP, to the case.

As a result of MPP, the six plaintiff families were forced to live in danger and misery in Mexico while awaiting their opportunity to apply for asylum. The suit asked that a federal judge rule MPP unlawful and forbid the government from applying this policy to the plaintiffs, allowing them to pursue their asylum applications within the United States.

Andrés Bollat Vasquez fled Guatemala for his life in 2016. After demonstrating a credible fear of persecution to U.S. border officials, he was eventually released into the United States and moved to Massachusetts. His wife and son fled Guatemala in 2019, fearing for their lives. But U.S. border officials put them in MPP and sent them to Matamoros—a dangerous border town in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico—until their next court date. The U.S. State Department has issued travel advisory of “Level 4: Do Not Travel” for Tamaulipas, the same level assigned to Syria and Afghanistan. As a result of being placed in MPP, Mr. Bollat’s family and the families of the five other Massachusetts plaintiffs had to fight for their survival each day while preparing their asylum cases. 

Since its implementation in 2019, MPP forced over 70,000 asylum seekers to wait in extremely dangerous conditions in Northern Mexico for their asylum hearings. MPP has also caused thousands of migrants to have to shelter for months in tents and under plastic sheets near the border—including several women and young children who are plaintiffs in this case.

The government is required by law to protect people who are fleeing persecution, but policies like MPP have been fashioned to destroy the asylum system, making the application process as difficult and as dangerous as possible. The lawsuit alleges that MPP and its application to the plaintiffs violate immigration laws, the Administrative Procedure Act, the U.S. Constitution, and the duty of non-refoulement, a post-WWII commitment not to expel refugees to places where they will be persecuted.

The original complaint, filed in March 2020, asked the court to rule that MPP is unlawful, and requested that Mr. Bollat’s wife and son, and three other plaintiffs be permitted to pursue their asylum claims from within the United States in accordance with the law.

On May 14, a federal judge ordered the government to allow five asylum-seekers to safely pursue their applications within the United States. Read the press release. The government appealed that order to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

On December 18, 2020, the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add three additional Massachusetts families with loved ones struggling to survive under MPP.

On February 13, 2021, the district court ordered the government to permit the seven asylum seekers who were then in Mexico under the MPP to enter the United States to pursue their asylum applications. Read the press release.

Plaintiffs’ clients spent between seven and more than 17 months in the MPP before they were permitted to enter the United States under the preliminary injunctions in this case.

In March 2021, the government moved to dismiss the district court case as moot. That motion was denied in October 2021. In August 2021, the government sought dismissal of its First Circuit appeal as moot while still asking that Court to vacate the preliminary injunction that protects the plaintiffs. The First Circuit dismissed the government’s appeal and declined to vacate the preliminary injunction in a November 2021 decision.


Adriana Lafaille, Matthew Segal, Krista Oehlke (ACLU of Massachusetts); Adam Kessel, Proshanto Mukherji, Bobby Hampton

Date filed

March 20, 2020