Judge Allows Asylum Seekers To Retain Lawyers

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A San Diego federal judge ruled that asylum seekers who have expressed fear about being returned to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration proceedings must be allowed access to attorneys to argue their cases, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Two rulings by Judge Dana Sabraw center on a crucial interview process that determines whether such asylum seekers should be part of the Trump administration’s so-called Remain in Mexico program, or whether the likelihood of persecution or torture south of the border means they should remain in the U.S. for the duration of their immigration cases. A Guatemalan family complained in a lawsuit that they were not allowed adequate access to attorneys before or during the interview with the asylum officer — a process called a “non-refoulement interview.” The family — a couple and their five children — had been assaulted at gunpoint during their trek through Mexico.

In November, Sabraw ordered border authorities to grant the family access to attorneys. The family has since been allowed to stay temporarily in the U.S. On Tuesday, Sabraw approved class certification, widening the lawsuit to include all individuals detained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody in California who are awaiting or undergoing non-refoulement interviews under Remain in Mexico and who have hired lawyers. Sabraw also granted a preliminary injunction that requires the government to allow all class members access to legal representation before and during such interviews. “Given the stakes of a non-refoulement interview — the return to a country in which one may face persecution and torture — and the interview’s fact-intensive nature, it is undeniable that access to counsel is important,” Sabraw wrote.

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