Some asylum-seekers returned to Mexico get attorney access

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 19, 2019, file photo, attorney Robyn Barnard, left, speaks to reporters in front of immigration court in San Diego. A federal judge ruled Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, that some asylum-seekers who fear waiting in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings must have access to attorneys before and during a key interview to determine if they can stay in the U.S. until their claims are decided. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that some asylum-seekers who fear waiting in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings must have access to attorneys before and during a key interview to determine if they can stay in the U.S. until their claims are decided.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego said his order applies to all asylum-seekers in California who have hired lawyers and are subject to the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy, which was introduced a year ago in San Diego and gradually expanded across the border with Mexico.

Nearly 13,500 of the roughly 56,000 people returned to Mexico through November were sent back through California, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The rest were returned through Texas crossings.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a much broader legal challenge that could sharply limit or even halt the policy, which the Trump administration considers crucial to dealing with asylum-seekers. Groups suing say the policy denies asylum-seekers fair treatment and exposes them to extreme violence in Mexican border cities.

Sabraw, ruling in a case filed by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said attorneys are entitled to meet with their clients before the asylum-seeker’s interview and to listen in to the interview by phone. The lawsuit is on behalf of a Guatemalan couple with five children who reported being assaulted, robbed and threatened with death in Mexico by masked men who appeared to be wearing Mexican government uniforms.

About two of every three asylum seekers sent back to Mexico under the policy are from Guatemala or Honduras. Mexicans are exempt.

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