Fish & Richardson and ACLU of Massachusetts Win Pro Bono Lawsuit for Asylum-Seekers Challenging "Return to Mexico" Policy

Fish & Richardson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU) secured a preliminary injunction in an important pro bono case that challenged a federal immigration policy requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. The February 13 order, issued by Judge Indira Talwani in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, will allow seven asylum-seekers - two women and five children - to reunite with their families in Massachusetts and pursue their applications in the United States.

Under the previous administration's policy called the "Migrant Protection Protocols" (MPP) or "Return to Mexico" policy, thousands of asylum-seekers, including the plaintiffs in this case, have been sent to violent and dangerous locations along the U.S.-Mexico border for the duration of their immigration proceedings. The families represented by Fish and the ACLU spent 16 to 18 months in these conditions for the opportunity to seek protection in the U.S.

The District of Massachusetts federal court found that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's application of MPP likely violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, which addresses the processing of certain noncitizens considered "applicants for admission." Judge Talwani found that the seven asylum seekers were, in fact, "applicants for admission" and therefore not subject to the "contiguous return provision," the provision in which DHS grounds its authority for MPP.

"We are honored to have played a role in this major victory in partnership with the ACLU," said Fish principal Adam Kessel. "Tens of thousands of individuals have sought refuge from danger and persecution in the United States, only to be forced back into the dangerous conditions they fled. We are proud to advocate for these asylum-seekers as they pursue a safer future for themselves and their families in the U.S."

"Working with the ACLU on this case has been incredibly rewarding," added Fish principal Proshanto Mukherji. "I am proud to have played a role in advocating for these families and ensuring they are free from danger."

The Fish litigation team, led by Kessel and Mukherji, also included principal Ricardo Bonilla and associates Bobby Hampton, Jacob Pecht, Eda Stark, and Will Freeman

Fish and the ACLU first filed a lawsuit on behalf of five asylum-seekers challenging MPP in March 2020 and secured a preliminary injunction in May 2020 allowing the individuals to safely pursue their claims in the U.S. The lawsuit was then amended in December 2020 to add three additional families.

Pro bono work is an integral part of Fish's professional culture, and the firm is dedicated to supporting those in need. Over the past year, nearly 75% of the firm's attorneys have taken part in pro bono projects.