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Rights groups sue Trump admin for making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico

The Trump administration began turning back asylum-seekers at the border between Tijuana and San Diego late last month.
Image: Thousands Of Migrants Wait To Enter U.S At Small Texas Border Crossing
Migrants, most of whom are part of a recently arrived caravan, are seen at a migrant hostel as they wait to apply for asylum in to the United States in Piedras Negras, Mexico on Feb 9, 2019.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Several immigrant rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the Trump administration policy that requires asylum-seekers, mainly from Central America, to wait in Mexico — sometimes for months or even years — for U.S. immigration judges to hear their cases.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, said the policy is "in violation of the humanitarian protections to which [asylum-seekers] are entitled under United States and international law."

Under the direction of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Customs and Border Protection officers began turning back asylum-seekers at the border between Tijuana and San Diego late last month. They began by denying entry to single men and recently started including families with children.

The plaintiffs point out that the areas where asylum-seekers are forced to wait in Mexico are experiencing record levels of violence. In Tijuana in December two Central American boys who were part of a migrant caravan were lured out of a shelter and murdered.

The judge could temporarily block the policy, teeing up yet another fight between the Trump administration and immigration advocates. The plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have previously used lawsuits to block Trump administration immigration policies, including the travel ban, family separation policy and a recent policy that denied asylum to immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

The Trump administration has said they are within legal bounds to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico under a provision of immigration law that says immigrants can be returned to the country from which they last set foot. Challengers, however, say that law should not apply to asylum-seekers.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.