Seeking Shelter

Fordham alumnus fights for refugee rights at the border.

Fordham Law alumnus Angelo Guisado ’12, along with two of his fellow attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights, earlier this month filed a lawsuit accusing U.S. border agents of systematically denying refugees their right to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On July 12, Guisado, along with his colleagues at CCR, the American Immigration Council, and Latham & Watkins LLP, brought a proposed class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection in the Central District of California. The lawsuit alleges that agents of both the DHS and CBP have consistently misinformed asylum-seekers of their right to seek refuge in the United States, denying them basic access to the asylum process.

“The DHS and the CBP used a whole number of unlawful tactics to reject asylum seekers,” says Guisado. “Generally, an asylum seeker would present herself at a port of entry and say, ‘I’m afraid to go back to my home country. I’m here in the United States, I’d like to seek asylum.’ And at the very least [CBP] has to give the individual the right to apply. What we saw was people being lied to, coerced, and in some cases being physically removed from ports of entry.”

According to the complaint, DHS and CBP agents rejected asylum-seekers with a variety of lies in violation of federal and international law. Seeking to dissuade asylum-seekers from exercising their rights, CBP officers told these individuals, “Trump says America is full,” or “Trump isn’t accepting asylum seekers anymore.” Many were simply told to turn around and that only Mexico could help them.

Prior to filing CCR’s lawsuit, Guisado and his colleagues traveled three times to cities along the U.S.-Mexican border, collecting the stories of asylum-seekers who were rejected at U.S. ports of entry.

“We went to shelters to interview people who had fled their home countries for fear of persecution, and who had been rejected by [CBP],” says Guisado. “They often come with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, their families, and their horrendous stories.”

Many of the asylum-seekers whom Guisado interviewed hail from the three countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These three countries have suffered horrific levels of violence during the past several years as gangs, such as El Salvador’s infamous MS-13, have undermined rule of law, minting a full-scale refugee crisis. The United Nations Refugee Agency has reported that the number of refugees from Northern Triangle countries seeking asylum abroad has increased fivefold since 2008, and now numbers well over 100,000 persons.

With the advent of the Trump administration, Guisado says that refugees from both Mexico and the Northern Triangle have faced increased resistance to their efforts to seek refuge in the United States, causing CCR to suspect the existence of a wider policy of denying asylum-seekers their rights.

“We’ve had reports of these same sorts of explanations and lies being spewed all across the border,” says Guisado. “It would seem to be more than just individual harassment.”

Guisado says that CCR is eager to uncover additional evidence about the origins of these discriminatory and unlawful practices during discovery. Having secured the immediate safety of their named plaintiffs, CCR seeks to obtain an injunction preventing the further employment of misinformation and harassment by DHS and CBP agents at the border.

Involved in the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice during his time at Fordham, Guisado encourages current Fordham students to take advantage of the center’s resources if they are interested in pursuing a career in human rights law. He also credits Fordham’s Federal Litigation Clinic for helping prepare him to represent and counsel indigent and often desperate clients. In addition to the Leitner Center and Federal Litigation Clinic, Fordham students are also presented with opportunities for service through the Immigration Advocacy Project, which for the past two years has organized trips to the Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, where students can help refugees from Northern Triangle countries navigate the asylum process.

“These people are fleeing some of the most unimaginable circumstances,” says Guisado. “I don’t see how anyone could hear their stories and do anything but cry.”


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