Asylum Seekers Ask Court to Block Turnback Policy

August 10, 2023
Last modified: 
August 10, 2023

San Diego, CA (Aug. 10, 2023) – On Wednesday a group of asylum seekers moved to block the Biden administration’s unlawful policy of turning back people seeking asylum at ports of entry along the southern border. The request was filed as part of an ongoing legal challenge to the policy, which requires asylum seekers to secure an advance appointment via the government’s CBP One smartphone app before requesting protection at the border.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Al Otro Lado, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and nine individual plaintiffs seeking to represent a broad class of asylum seekers subject to the turnback policy. The organizations and asylum seekers are represented by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, the American Immigration Council, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with Mayer Brown LLP and others.

The preliminary injunction requested by the asylum seekers would block the government from implementing the turnback policy until the case is decided. In the meantime, the government would be required to follow its own binding guidance, and process all people seeking asylum at ports of entry, regardless of whether they are lucky enough to obtain a CBP One appointment. 

The request filed on Wednesday details the experiences of individual asylum seekers who were unable to secure CBP One appointments. When they requested asylum at ports of entry, they were unlawfully turned back by U.S. border agents. Like others subject to the turnback policy, they are now stranded in parts of Mexico notorious for high levels of violence against migrants and people seeking asylum, with no end in sight.

  • After being attacked by narcotraffickers, Luisa sought asylum at the U.S. border, only to be pushed back to the very country she is fleeing under the turnback policy. As she desperately awaits a CBP One appointment, the narcotraffickers continue to send her threatening messages.

  • When Pablo told U.S. border agents he could not secure a CBP One appointment due to technical difficulties, he was informed he “should learn English” if he wanted to live in the United States. He has been repeatedly subject to the turnback policy. After being assaulted, robbed, and extorted in Mexico, Pablo now lives in hiding.

  • Stranded in Tijuana as a result of the turnback policy, Laura is afraid to leave her migrant shelter, terrified that the Mexican cartel that disappeared her husband and father-in-law will kill her and her children.

  • Natasha fled her home country of Haiti after receiving death threats. She and her young child sought asylum at the U.S. border, but they have been told they cannot enter the United States without a CBP One appointment. They now live outside an abandoned gas station in Mexico, where they often cannot afford food or clean water.

  • Guadalupe sought asylum at the U.S border with her children and her mother Somar after being threatened by an abusive family member with ties to organized crime. Stranded in Mexico under the turnback policy, Guadalupe’s children became repeatedly ill after eating expired food at their migrant shelter, where they struggled to pay the weekly fee.

“Access to the asylum process should not be run like a deli counter, where you get a number and wait for your sandwich. Refugees do not have the luxury of waiting on a CBP One appointment to save their lives, because many of them are being hunted all the way to the border. CBP's refusal to process refugees who do not have a CBP One appointment will only push them to cross through the desert, where many of them will die, or will keep them trapped in Mexico, where many of them will also die,” said Nicole Ramos, Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project director. “These deaths could be avoided by CBP following federal law and its own binding agency guidance, instead of externalizing its obligation to process refugees at the port of entry to a glitchy smartphone app that works only half of the time, and cannot be accessed by large swaths of the refugee community. We urge the court to recognize the severity and urgency of the situation on the ground and grant the preliminary injunction, because failure to do so will only result in more deaths that could have otherwise been avoided.”

“The law is clear that the United States cannot block people from seeking asylum at the border, yet that is what the U.S. government has been doing for years with the Haiti Deterrence Policy, Metering, the Migrant Protection Protocols, Title 42, and now the Turnback Policy,” said Nicole Phillips, Legal Director at the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “The only alternative, which is to schedule an appointment to present at the border through the CBP One app, is not working for vulnerable groups, with a particular impact on women and Black and Indigenous asylum seekers. I have spoken with Haitian asylum seekers who have been trying to schedule an appointment since January, while risking their lives in cartel-controlled Reynosa. An injunction now is necessary and appropriate to restore access to seek asylum and to prevent more harm at the border.”

“We implore the court to act now and grant our plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction,” said Neela Chakravartula, Managing Attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “Every day the government’s unlawful turnback policy remains in place, people seeking safety are stranded in precarious conditions where their lives are at risk. Our courageous plaintiffs have recounted harrowing experiences of violence, discrimination, and homelessness as a direct result of the policy. Their stories represent just the tip of the iceberg. This policy is costing lives. The court must step in now.”

“The CBP One Turnback Policy is dangerous, unlawful, and places our plaintiffs and the most disadvantaged asylum seekers at risk of grave harm,” said Gianna Borroto, Senior Litigation Attorney at the American Immigration Council (AIC). “Access to asylum cannot be conditioned on resources and the ability to use a defective app. We hope for swift action to block the CBP One Turnback Policy and restore access to asylum for all at our southern border.”

“CBP One has exacerbated the very real and exigent circumstances our clients face,” said Angelo Guisado, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). “These exigencies–clear, apparent, and often heartbreaking–were disregarded and even laughed at by CBP officers. We hope the Court enters a preliminary injunction and holds the U.S. government accountable for its cruelty.”

“We are asking the Court to require the government to abide by its own statements that it will not turn back asylum seekers who do not have a CBP One appointment,” said Ori Lev, Partner at Mayer Brown. “The interim relief is critical to prevent additional irreparable harm to asylum seekers who are unable to obtain an appointment and is clearly warranted under the circumstances.”

The Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance v. Mayorkas lawsuit argues that the government’s policy of turning back asylum seekers who do not have a CBP One appointment violates U.S. law, the government’s own guidance, asylum seekers’ due process rights, and the United States’ obligations under international law, which prohibit the government from returning refugees to countries where they face persecution or torture.

A copy of the request can be accessed here.

Una traducción en español de este comunicado de prensa está disponible aqui.

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Elyssa Pachico
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