Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Coalition Blasting the Trump Administration for Trapping Asylum-Seekers in Catch-22

Wednesday, February 12, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced leading a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief blasting the Trump Administration for moving the goalposts on asylum eligibility. The amicus brief is in support of asylum-seekers who have already been trapped at the border for months, waiting to apply for protection due to the Administration’s unlawful policies. Now, they are being forced to challenge the Trump Administration’s decision to arbitrarily further change the rules and bar tens of thousands of people from asylum if they did not apply in a third country while en route to the United States. Despite losing at the district court, the Trump Administration remains intent on imposing its draconian measures across the board and has appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In the amicus brief, the coalition urges the court to uphold the preliminary injunction and asserts that the Trump Administration is harming communities across the country by effectively punishing people fleeing violence and persecution for attempting to comply with the Administration’s dangerous and arbitrary asylum requirements.

“It is cruel and unacceptable to change the rules on people fleeing violence and persecution, especially after they have already jumped through every hoop the Trump administration has thrown their way,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Asylum-seekers often travel thousands of miles to escape danger. At a minimum, we have a moral responsibility to treat them with dignity and respect. In California, we’ll continue to fight for everyone who aspires to the American Dream.”

The lawsuit brought by nonprofit legal services provider Al Otro Lado seeks to protect the rights of tens of thousands of people who have been unlawfully harmed by the Trump Administration’s arbitrary changes to the asylum process. The case centers on asylum-seekers who sought entry to the United States prior to the Administration’s efforts to implement an interim final rule prohibiting people from seeking asylum unless they applied for and were denied protection in at least one country they transited through prior to arrival. If the Trump Administration is successful in this case, it could result in the denial of or delay of access to the asylum process for at least 26,000 applicants, including parents with infants, unaccompanied minors, and LGBTQ individuals. The asylum-seekers in this case have already been stuck at the U.S. border as a result of Trump Administration’s unlawful “Turnback Policy.” Under the policy, border officials have used various methods to deny asylum-seekers access to the asylum process, including misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, coercion, verbal and physical abuse, and “metering,” the practice of putting artificial daily limits on the number of asylum-seekers allowed to cross the border.

In the amicus brief, the coalition describes the harms the interim final rule could have on the states and asylum-seekers. For instance, the coalition points to the lack of access to medical care, drinkable water, and appropriate shelter available to asylum seekers— including current examples of people living under tarps held up only by sticks as temperatures drop below freezing.

The coalition maintains that allowing the rule to go into effect would harm the states in that it would:

  • Prevent otherwise-eligible asylum seekers who could become valuable members of the states’ communities from entering or staying in the country;
  • Block access to critical humanitarian relief and incentivize people to dangerously enter the country without inspection; and
  • Force people to apply for asylum in countries that may be dangerously unequipped to offer adequate protections or services, thereby increasing their eventual need for state-funded services.

Attorney General Becerra remains committed to safeguarding the human rights of people inside and outside California. Last year, Attorney General Becerra co-led a multistate coalition in an amicus brief in a separate case, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Barr, challenging the interim final rule. In addition, the Attorney General led a multistate coalition in an amicus brief condemning the Trump Administration’s “Turnback Policy.” Earlier this year, Attorney General Becerra led an amicus brief against the Trump Administration’s attempts to appeal a preliminary injunction halting the administration from vastly expanding expedited removal deportations that do not allow for the due process protections afforded in normal removal proceedings. Attorney General Becerra also filed a lawsuit in opposition to a rule circumventing protections for children under the Flores Settlement Agreement, which was permanently blocked by a federal court in September of 2019.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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