White House challenged over asylum seeker deportations
President Donald Trump’s administration has been sued by human rights and civil liberties groups over its policy of deporting asylum seekers outside of the US in the first major challenge to the White House’s plan to send people seeking refuge back to Central America.
The plaintiffs claim people are being placed into extreme danger by being sent to countries where there is “virtually no chance they will find refuge”.
The case, filed in federal court in Washington, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human and immigrant rights groups on behalf of two not-for-profit organisations and six migrants who were flown to Guatemala after arriving in the US to seek asylum.
“The administration is illegally trying to turn away asylum seekers and pass the buck to other countries that can’t protect them,” ACLU spokesperson Katrina Eiland told US media.
Last year, the Trump administration struck deals with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador paving the way for the US to send asylum seekers back to the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ countries to apply for asylum there.
So far, however, the US has only finalised its agreement with Guatemala.
The deals came as a significant shift in US asylum policy as migrants who may have a legitimate claim for asylum are sent to another country to make their case.
The plaintiffs argue that the agreements and policy to enact the accords violate the Immigration and Nationality Act’s safe third country provision, as well as number of other statutes and the suspension clause of the US Constitution.
“For most asylum seekers, seeking protection in Guatemala is not an option,” the statement of claim says
“The country lacks a full and fair asylum processing system, and is often even more dangerous for migrants than it is for Guatemalans, who have fled the country in large numbers,” it says.
Around 100 migrants have been sent to Guatemala to seek asylum there as a part of the agreement, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has confirmed.
One of those asylum seekers was a woman from Honduras who, fled to the US with her daughter after her husband and sister-in-law were extorted by local gangs and murdered one year apart from one another, according to the statement of claim.
In December, she arrived in the US with her daughter, but they were sent to Guatemala to claim asylum there, despite telling officials that she had been threatened while in Guatemala.
Once there she “learned that she had 72 hours to decide whether to stay in Guatemala and apply for asylum or return to Honduras,” the statement says.
The woman returned temporarily to Honduras, feeling she had no means to remain safe or support herself in Guatemala, according to the statement.
Earlier this month, the White House administration officials said the US would start deporting Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala in an extension of the policy.
The Mexican Government has rejected the plan, saying it will work to offer better options to Mexicans who might be affected the move.
Meanwhile. Trump administration officials have labelled the program a success, saying it has helped to reduce the flow of migrants to the US border thus expanding the region’s ability to offer humanitarian protections.
This is despite the Trump administration also slashing the numbers of humanitarian refugees it accepts.