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U.T. v. Barr

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Case Status: 

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-00116

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

The Trump administration signed “Asylum Cooperative Agreements” with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to enable U.S. border officials to remove asylum seekers to these countries rather than hear their claims in the United States. Although U.S. law does provide for transferring an asylum seeker to a “safe third country” (not their home country, and not the United States), it requires that the asylum seeker actually be safe in that country and have access to a full and fair asylum procedure.

We are challenging the November 2019 rule that provides a procedural framework for current and future Asylum Cooperative Agreements, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidance to asylum officers on the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement, and the government’s categorical designations of Guatemala as a safe third country. Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras utterly fail to meet the criteria of safety and lack functioning asylum systems. None of these countries has the capacity to handle more than a minuscule number of asylum claims and all are plagued with rampant gender- and gang-related violence and other civil and political unrest that has forced thousands of their own citizens to seek asylum in the United States.

Whose life is at stake? 

The plaintiffs in U.T. v. Barr include some of the first asylum seekers subjected to the Asylum Cooperative Agreement with Guatemala, for example, H.R., a mother who fled El Salvador after gang members killed two of her siblings and attempted to force her teenage daughter into a sexual relationship. When H.R. and her children finally reached the U.S. border and asked for protection, an asylum officer told them they were going to be transferred to Guatemala under the new Agreement.

H.R.’s family had been extorted by Guatemalan police officers when they passed through the country en route to the U.S. border. She begged the asylum officer to let them stay in the United States, where she knew they would be safe – to no avail. After the U.S. forcibly returned H.R. to Guatemala, she was given only 72 hours to decide whether she wanted to apply for asylum there. H.R. felt just as unsafe as she had in El Salvador, and she had no family or resources in Guatemala. She knew she had no choice but to return home. Back in El Salvador, H.R. and her family continue to live in fear of the gangs whose threats forced them to flee in the first place.

What’s the status of this case? 

The case is pending a decision by the District Court for the District of Columbia on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. We filed the initial complaint in January 2020. While the case is pending, this policy is in effect.

UPDATE: The Biden administration has suspended and initiated processes to terminate the Trump-era agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The litigation remains pending as the parties explore settlement.

Who’s involved? 

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies is counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, and the National Immigrant Justice Center. Organizational plaintiffs are the Tahirih Justice Center and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. A number of organizations have filed amicus briefs including the asylum officers’ union, several states, Refugees International, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, and RAICES.

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 policies affecting asylum seekers at the border. Click here to request materials relevant to your client’s case.