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Oxfam, ACLU, and Texas Civil Rights Project file lawsuit to protect unaccompanied minors’ right to seek asylum

By Oxfam
A border gate at the Suchiate River on the Guatemala-Mexico border. Many asylum seekers from Central America cross this river on the way to Mexico and the United States. Oxfam is advocating for the Mexican and US government to respect the rights of people seeking safety, and is part of a lawsuit against the US government as a means to prevent the deportation of a minor asylum seeker from Guatemala, and establish a precedent for protecting unaccompanied minors. Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam America

After recent important legal victories that provide protection to child refugees the administration attempted to send back into harm’s way, Oxfam and our partners are taking this fight a step further: to ensure that no children can be expelled in violation of their basic human rights.

Last week, Oxfam joined a class action lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Texas Civil Rights Project to challenge the Trump administration’s use of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to expel unaccompanied children and asylum seekers from the US. These expulsions have no public health justification, and leave children vulnerable to persecution, and torture.

This case is the fourth that Oxfam has filed with the ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project against the Trump Administration’s cynical attempt to expel unaccompanied children to face violence and deprivation. It is being brought on behalf of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy of indigenous Mayan heritage who fled his country after facing severe persecution. Gangs threatened his life when he refused to join their ranks, but since fleeing to the US to be with his father, the administration has held him in a Texas hotel as it prepares to send him back to Guatemala. This violates the US obligation to protect unaccompanied minors from the threat of human trafficking, and to afford asylum seekers the right to have their case heard.

If the court rules in our favor, the decision will not only enable the boy to remain in the US and be reunited with his father, but will apply to all unaccompanied minors, upholding their right to protection under US and international law. A favorable ruling will confirm what we already know: The US has the capacity to protect public health without violating its legal obligations to uphold the right to seek asylum.

The timing is essential: Since coming to office, the Trump administration has waged an all-out assault against the legacy of the US as a safe haven for people fleeing persecution. These attacks have only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the administration has used the pandemic as a pretext to pursue its well-established anti-immigrant, anti-refugee agenda. By challenging this illegal order, we hope to not only stand up to the administration’s hateful, xenophobic agenda and stop people from being forcibly returned to the very countries they are fleeing, but also to begin to restore US legacy of support for refugee rights.

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