The U.S. government has built a “wall between lawyers and migrants in Mexico,” Mónika Langarica, director of Immigrant Rights at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Efe.
The ACLU is one of the organizations that filed a class action lawsuit this week in San Diego, California, against the government of President Donald Trump for obstructing immigration lawyers from contacting and representing tens of thousands of migrants sent to Mexico to await responses to asylum petitions.
“The right to consult with attorneys is fundamental and fair; it is critical to ensuring that migrants have a fair opportunity to seek asylum,” Langarica said.
The ACLU, Jewish Family Services and the Immigrant Legal Defense Center filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Diego on behalf of families sent by the U.S. government to wait in Mexico after they had been abused there.
One of those families fled Guatemala after a 17-year-old daughter was raped and threatened with death if she reported it, but while crossing Mexico she suffered assaults and harassment, including from uniforms, they say.
“The lawsuit is against several federal government institutions, including the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” which is in charge of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as “Stay in Mexico,” which began in late January.
Some 50,000 migrants await in cities along the Mexican border, 12,700 of them in the region represented by the plaintiffs, between San Diego and Calexico (California), and Mexicali and Tijuana (Mexico).
The lawyers encounter difficulties even as they attempt to cross the border into Mexico in search of families requiring legal representation.
For example, Langarica explained, official documents lack basic information such as where to find migrants returned to Mexico or lawyers’ fear that immigration authorities at ports of entry will send them to a “secondary (detailed) inspection” when they return to the country.
During the filing of the class action lawsuit, some lawyers said that the authorities prevent them from speaking on behalf of their constituents during interviews in which migrants must convince themselves that their fears are well-founded.
Langarica said he didn’t know a percentage of MPP migrants with legal representation, but he trusted a study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) analysis center at Syracuse University in New York, which last August found that only 1.2 percent had attorneys.