UPDATE: 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.
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 are stranded in Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP).
The plaintiffs include three women and two young children who, as a result of MPP, have been forced to live in danger and misery in Mexico while awaiting their opportunity to apply for asylum. The suit asks 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. However, 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 condition as Syria and Afghanistan. As a result of being placed in MPP, Mr. Bollat’s family and the families of two other Massachusetts plaintiffs have had to fight for their survival each day while preparing their asylum cases.
Since its implementation in 2019, MPP has forced over 60,000 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 a five-year-old and two women 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 complaint asks the court to rule that MPP is unlawful, and requests 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.
The ACLU is currently litigating against MPP in federal court. The ACLU of Massachusetts previously reached a settlement on behalf of another client living in the Commonwealth, whose husband and son were forced into danger for months under MPP. The family was reunited in February 2020.