U.S. Sued Over Policy to Send Asylum Seekers Back to Mexico

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration was sued over its “catch and return" policy that’s forcing Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications for entry to the U.S. are pending.

A group of immigrants’ rights defenders, including the American American Civil Liberties Union, filed a complaint on Thursday in San Francisco federal court to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s policy.

The lawsuit is another challenge by human rights activists to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants from Central America trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. In December, two federal judges blocked rules that made it harder for immigrants to seek protection in the U.S. from domestic and gang violence and other dangerous situations in their native countries.

The complaint was filed at the same time as the White House said Trump will sign compromise spending legislation that would avert another government shutdown and declare a national emergency to get more money for a border wall from other parts of the federal budget.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new policy Dec. 20 as an effort to stop illegal immigration, saying Central American immigrants too frequently get a "free pass" into the U.S. if they "say the magic words."

Trump called the standard practice “catch and release” because it allows asylum seekers to live in the U.S. for months or years before judges consider their cases. A Homeland Security official dubbed the new policy “catch and return.”

“The Trump administration is forcibly returning asylum seekers to danger in Mexico,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Once again, the administration is breaking the law in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking safety in the United States.”

Representatives of Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The case is Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen, 19-cv-00807, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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