Our Work » Litigation » Innovation Law Lab v. Mayorkas

Innovation Law Lab v. Mayorkas

Case Status: 

UPDATE: On August 24, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision ordering the Biden administration to reinstate Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). When CGRS and our partners brought this lawsuit against the policy, at every step the federal courts found MPP to be in blatant violation of our domestic and international legal obligations to people fleeing persecution.

Recognizing the policy’s illegality – and the profound harm it caused – the Biden administration terminated MPP in June 2021. But the states of Texas and Missouri sued, and this month a lower court accepted the states’ claims that it was somehow illegal to end MPP the way the administration did. CGRS and our partners filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court unpacking the many legal errors - and blatantly racist myths - underpinning the lower court ruling.

Now we are calling on the Biden administration to do everything in its power to put an end to this travesty once and for all.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:19-cv-00807-RS
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 19-15716
U.S. Supreme Court, No. 19-1212

What is the government doing and why are we challenging it?

In January 2019 the administration launched the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) and has forcibly returned over 68,000 asylum seekers to await their U.S. immigration court dates in perilous conditions in Mexico. This unprecedented action denies asylum seekers full and fair access to the U.S. asylum system and returns them to a country where they face violence, dire human rights conditions, and possible refoulement to their countries of origin. A screening process instituted by U.S. authorities that is supposed to identify people who would be at risk of persecution or torture if returned to Mexico and allow them to stay in the United States instead is completely inadequate. People subject to MPP are easily targeted in dangerous Mexican border towns by criminal gangs intent on robbery, kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder. Local officials and civil society organizations are not able to provide protection, food, shelter, medical care, education, or employment to the asylum seekers as they wait for months while their immigration court cases move slowly through the system, nor can U.S. legal service providers effectively help them prepare their cases.

What’s the status of this case?

At every step, federal courts considering the merits of the case have found MPP to be unlawful. In April 2019 a federal district court in California granted a preliminary injunction, which would have temporarily halted the policy. The Ninth Circuit initially stayed the injunction – allowing MPP to remain in effect – but restored it in February 2020, ruling unequivocally that MPP violates both U.S. and international law. The government then appealed to the Supreme Court, which put the injunction on hold as it considered the case, leaving the policy in place until the Biden administration terminated it. Following the termination, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court, which vacated the injunction as moot. The case remains pending.  

Whose life is at stake?

One of our plaintiffs is Dennis Doe (a pseudonym to protect his identity), a young man from Honduras who fled death threats from the MS-13 gang because he refused to join them. He went first to another part of Honduras, but the gang sent him a note saying they knew where he was and his life was in danger. The same gang killed a close friend of Dennis’s. Dennis fled to the United States to ask for asylum but has been forced to stay in Mexico while his case goes on. He is terrified there because MS-13 gang members, identifiable by their tattoos, move freely about Tijuana. Dennis is afraid that the people who were trying to kill him in Honduras will find him in Mexico. When he was interviewed by a U.S. asylum officer regarding his case, he was not asked if it was possible or safe for him to remain in Mexico. Dennis continues to wait in Mexico in fear and desperation.

Who’s involved?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center. We represent eleven individual asylum seekers as well as six non-profit legal services and advocacy organizations: Innovation Law Lab, Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado, and the Tahirih Justice Center. Several organizations and individuals have filed amicus briefs in this case including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; the asylum officers union; former government officials; Human Rights First; and Amnesty International USA, Washington Office on Latin America, Latin America Working Group, and IMUMI.

How can you help?

Take the #WelcomeWithDignity pledge and join our movement to defend the right to seek asylum. You can support CGRS’s vital work on cases like this one by making a donation.

Need more information?

Contact Brianna Krong, Communications and Advocacy Manager, at krongbrianna@uclawsf.edu.

Resources for Advocates

CGRS has produced several resources to support attorneys representing clients impacted by MPP and other policies affecting asylum seekers at the border. Click here to request materials relevant to your client’s case.

Press Releases

CGRS Comment on Supreme Court Decision to Hear Remain in Mexico Challenge | October 19, 2020

CGRS Comment on SCOTUS Order in Remain in Mexico Challenge | March 12, 2020

CGRS Comment on Ninth Circuit Order in Remain in Mexico Challenge | March 5, 2020

CGRS Comment on Temporary Stay in Challenge to Forced Return Policy | February 29, 2020

Ninth Circuit Halts Trump administration’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | February 28, 2020

Immigrant Rights Groups: Congress Must Investigate Separation and Suffering Caused by Remain in Mexico Policy | July 12, 2019

CGRS Comment on Ruling in Lawsuit Challenging Forced Return Policy | May 8, 2019

Federal Court Blocks Trump’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | April 8, 2019

Groups in Federal Court to Challenge Trump’s Forced Return to Mexico Policy | March 22, 2019

Groups File Lawsuit Against Trump Policy Forcibly Returning Asylum Seekers to Mexico | February 14, 2019

CGRS Responds to Implementation of Illegal Migrant Protection Protocols | January 28, 2019

CGRS Condemns Illegal Migration Protection Protocols | December 20, 2018

Select Media Coverage

“Appeals Court Allows ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy to Continue Blocking Migrants at the Border,” Miriam Jordan, New York Times, March 4, 2020

“Appeals court in SF grants Trump emergency stay of its ruling in asylum-seeker case,” Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2020

“Appeals Court Blocks Trump's Remain-in-Mexico Asylum Policy,” Brent Kendall and Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2020

“Report: Trump immigration policy forced hundreds of babies to wait indefinitely in Mexico,” Vanessa Taylor, Mic, October 11, 2019

"The Trump Administration Has Placed 48,000 Asylum Seekers in Harm’s Way. The Courts Must Step In Now," Karen Musalo and Brianna Krong, Ms., October 3, 2019

“Trump Administration Can Keep Sending Asylum Seekers to Mexico, Court Rules,” Miriam Jordan, New York Times, May 7, 2019

“Federal judge blocks Trump administration from sending asylum seekers to Mexico,” Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune, April 8, 2019

“Judge Hears Arguments On Federal Policy Keeping Asylum Seekers In Mexico,” SF Gate, March 22, 2019

“Border Purgatory: Trump Administration’s Latest Effort to Deter Refugees,” Isaac Bloch and Anne Dutton, Refugees Deeply, February 22, 2019

“Lawsuit challenges Trump plan keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico until case decided,” Alan Gomez, USA Today, February 14, 2019

Photo credit: Brooke Anderson Photography