Metro Weekly

Gay Salvadoran asylum seeker sues Trump administration for deporting him to Guatemala

Lawsuit challenges "safe third country" policy that puts asylum seekers into similar circumstances that caused them to flee

U.S. Border Patrol agent – Photo: Gerald L. Nino, CBP, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security.

A gay Salvadoran asylum seeker has sued the Trump administration for deporting him to Guatemala as part of its “safe third country” policy for people who come to the United States fleeing violence and instability in their home countries.

Under the policy, asylum seekers are blocked from ever receiving a chance to live in the United States.

Instead, the Trump administration is sending many to Guatemala — and has future plans to begin sending some to El Salvador and Honduras — as a result of “safe third country” agreements with other nations who agree to accept asylum seekers.

But critics of the policy argue that the United States is effectively sending asylum seekers fleeing gang or state-sponsored violence or political instability in Central America, for example, to other countries in the region with almost identical problems.

Additionally, they argue, the “safe third countries” do not have sufficient procedures in place to ensure asylum seekers can safely resettle there.

“The Trump administration has created a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves desperate refugees without a safe haven, in violation of U.S. and international law,” Katrina Eiland, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “The administration is illegally trying to turn away asylum seekers and pass the buck to other countries that can’t protect them.”

The lawsuit challenging the policy, known as U.T. v. Barr, was filed in federal court, arguing that the policy violates the Refugee Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, and Administrative Procedure Act.

The plaintiffs in the case are asylum seekers who fled to the United States and were sent to Guatemala because of the policy, as well as several organizations that serve asylum seekers.

One of the plaintiffs, U.T., is a gay man from El Salvador who fled his home country after being threatened by an MS-13 gang member.

He believes that he will be attacked or killed for his sexual orientation if he stays in El Salvador.

He traveled through Guatemala on his way to the U.S. border, but experienced homophobic harassment there and believes he will face similar threats if he stays in Guatemala. 

Another plaintiff, M.H., is a Honduran mom who fled with her young daughter after her common-law husband and sister-in-law were murdered.

Prior to their deaths, they had worked in the transportation business and had been forced give a cut of their money to local gangs under duress.

Other plaintiffs include the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy organization that assists immigrant women and girls fleeing violence.

“The plaintiffs’ cases illustrate how callous the Trump administration’s attacks on the asylum system have become, and how far we have drifted from our own values as a country,” Ruben Loyo, an attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is part of a coalition of civil and human rights groups representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Related: Guatemalan trans woman who received death threats is granted asylum

“Because of this illegal rule and the administration’s perverted application of the ‘safe third country’ label, the U.S. is slamming the door on individuals fleeing life-threatening conditions and sending them back to a country where they have no guarantee of safety and security,” Loyo added. “Instead, the plaintiffs and other asylum seekers often have no choice but to return to their home country where they are exposed to further harm and displacement.”

Blaine Bookey, the co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, called the policy “senseless.”

“By sending vulnerable people to Guatemala, the administration makes a mockery of the United States’ obligations to protect the persecuted, gutting the U.S. asylum system beyond recognition,” Bookey said.

“The Trump administration wants to return the persecuted to their persecutors rather than allow these vulnerable people to seek asylum in our country, the land of immigrants,” Hardy Vieux, the vice president at Human Rights First, said in a statement. “Not only does this violate the law, it is wrong. There is nothing great about a country that betrays its values in the name of stoking fear and demonizing the innocent. We are taking the administration to court because, politics aside, the law still stands for fairness and justice in our country. Most of us know this; some of us need reminding.”

Read more:

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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