Al Otro Lado et al. v. Wolf et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-02366 (S.D. Cal., filed July 12, 2017)
On July 12, 2017, the American Immigration Council, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Latham & Watkins, LLP, filed a class action lawsuit challenging U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”)’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The plaintiffs in the case are Al Otro Lado (a non-profit legal services organization that serves indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Los Angeles and Tijuana) and six courageous asylum seekers who experienced CBP’s unlawful conduct firsthand. Their experiences demonstrate that CBP uses a variety of tactics—including misrepresentation, threats and intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, and coercion—to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims. The complaint alleges that CBP’s conduct violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the doctrine of non-refoulement under international law.
On November 13, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification, which included dozens of declarations from asylum seekers CBP had turned away at the border. On November 28, 2017, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to transfer venue to the Southern District of California and dismissed all pending motions without prejudice. On August 20, 2018, the court denied in part and granted in part the government’s motion to dismiss, allowing the majority of plaintiffs’ claims to go forward. On October 12, 2018, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint highlighting the Trump administration’s specific implementation of the “turnback policy” as well as the administration’s own “zero-tolerance policy.”
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on November 29, 2018, which Plaintiffs opposed. Close to two dozen states filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss, as did many members of Congress, Amnesty International, law professors, and nineteen nonprofit immigrant advocacy organizations.
In July 2019, the judge rejected most of Defendants’ claims in the motion to dismiss and ordered the government to file an answer to Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint, which it did in August 2019. In February, the parties completed briefing on certification of a class consisting of all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a POE on the U.S.-Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of CBP officials on or after January 1, 2016, as well as sub-class of those who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process as a result of metering over the same time period.
Motion for Preliminary Injunction
While this case has been pending, and asylum seekers remain stranded in Mexico under the Turnback Policy, the Trump administration issued an interim final rule (the “Asylum Ban”) barring individuals from asylum eligibility in the United States if they transited through a third country and did not seek protection there first. On September 26, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction and a motion seeking provisional class certification asking the district court to keep Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to provisional class members, in order to maintain their eligibility for asylum until the court rules on the legality of the Trump administration’s metering policy in this case.
On November 19, 2019, the court provisionally certified a class consisting of “all non-Mexican asylum seekers who were unable to make a direct asylum claim at a U.S. [port of entry] before July 16, 2019 because of the U.S. Government’s metering policy, and who continue to seek access to the U.S. asylum process.” The court also blocked Defendants from applying the Asylum Ban to members of the provisional class and ordered that Defendants apply pre-Asylum Ban practices for processing the asylum applications of members of the class.
On December 4, 2019, Defendants appealed the district court’s order to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On March 5, 2020, the Ninth Circuit denied Defendants’ motion for a stay of the order until the appellate court decides the merits of the appeal. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit lifted its previously imposed emergency temporary stay of the order. At this time, the District Court’s order is in effect.
On July 17, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a motion to clarify the preliminary injunction, asserting that since the Ninth Circuit lifted the temporary stay, Defendants had committed “numerous violations of the preliminary injunction,” including “tak[ing] minimal and insufficient steps to identify class members and to ensure that the Asylum Ban does not impact their eligibility for asylum” and continuing to refuse to produce the written guidance sent to the various government agencies involved in implementing the preliminary injunction. Defendants responded in opposition to the motion on August 3, 2020 and Plaintiffs replied on August 10, 2020.
Oral argument was held on the motion for class certification on July 30, 2020. On August 6, 2020, the District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all noncitizens who seek or will seek to access the U.S. asylum process by presenting themselves at a Class A [POE] on the U.S.- Mexico border, and were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process by or at the instruction of [CBP] officials on or after January 1, 2016.” The court also certified a subclass of “all noncitizens who were or will be denied access to the U.S. asylum process at a Class A POE on the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of Defendants’ metering policy on or after January 1, 2016.”
Discovery has begun and on September 4, 2020 Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. On September 25, 2020, Defendants filed a cross motion for summary judgment and opposition to Plaintiffs’ motion.
Class counsel have prepared a Frequently Asked Questions resource to address common questions about the court’s order, class membership, and implementation. The FAQ resource will be updated periodically and is available here.
Counsel: Mayer Brown LLP | American Immigration Council | Center for Constitutional Rights | Southern Poverty Law Center
Contact: Melissa Crow | Southern Poverty Law Center | Melissa.Crow@SPLCenter.org