Human Rights Attorneys in Court to Defend Lawsuit Challenging Unlawful Trump Administration Turnback Policy

May 10, 2019, San Diego, CA—The Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, and American Immigration Council argued in federal district court today against the government’s effort to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's unlawful turnbacks of asylum seekers who present themselves at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“The Trump administration is doing everything it can to sidestep its legal obligations to asylum seekers,” said Baher Azmy, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Instead, their focus has been on stripping these incredibly vulnerable populations of their rights while working to convince the American public via a campaign of misinformation that they lack capacity to process asylum seekers at the southern border.”  

Last November, the organizations filed an amended complaint, which directly links high-level members of the Trump administration to an official "Turnback Policy," directing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to restrict the number of asylum seekers who can access the asylum process at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. This policy and related practices deny many asylum seekers access to the asylum process, in violation of U.S. and international law. 

“The ratcheting up of this policy was one of the Trump administration’s earliest efforts to target asylum seekers and manufacture the current crisis at the border,” said Melissa Crow, Senior Supervising Attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Since taking office, this administration has implemented policy after policy aimed at undermining and evading our country’s legal obligations to asylum seekers, all while demonizing them in the public’s eye.”

Since the implementation of the “Turnback Policy,” the administration has also attempted to ban asylum seekers entering between ports of entry from eligibility for asylum and put in place the “Remain in Mexico” policy that strands vulnerable individuals in dire circumstances in Mexico to await their immigration court hearings. More recently, Attorney General Barr announced a new policy that would indefinitely detain certain asylum seekers who have passed an initial “credible fear” screening interview.   

“Nearly every day it seems there is a new policy announced or effort uncovered aimed solely at making life for asylum seekers and immigrants in general unbearable,” said Erika Pinheiro, Al Otro Lado Director of Litigation and Policy. “The administration’s rhetoric leaves no doubt that its main goals are to make life as difficult as possible for asylum seekers and to bolster its anti-immigrant narrative.” 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights and American Immigration Council filed the lawsuit, Al Otro Lado v. McAleenan, No. 3:17-cv-02366 (S.D. Cal.), in July 2017 on behalf of 13 individual asylum seekers and Al Otro Lado, an immigration legal services provider with offices in Mexico and California. 

Al Otro Lado is also a plaintiff in another case challenging the administration’s asylum ban, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump, which had briefs due this week.

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page. 


 Al Otro Lado provides cross-border legal services to deportees, refugees, and families separated by unjust immigration laws. With the help of our nonprofit partners and almost 1,000 volunteers, we connect our clients with free legal, medical, mental health, and other social services they need to heal and thrive. Al Otro Lado employs impact litigation and policy advocacy to promote systemic changes that protect immigrants’ rights.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see

The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. Follow the latest Council news and information on and Twitter @immcouncil.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

May 10, 2019