It's unclear how widespread this practice is. Lawyers in San Diego, Laredo and Brownsville confirmed they have seen it firsthand.
However, only about 1% of asylum-seekers in the Migrant Protection Protocols program have lawyers. Therefore it's difficult to track what happens to the overwhelming majority of the people in the program.
Lawyers said asylum-seekers without legal representation who have been sent back this way likely have no way of advocating for themselves. It took Goodwin hours of calls to high-level officials in the U.S. and Mexican immigration agencies plus the threat of a lawsuit to get her client back in the United States.
"If you don't have someone who's willing to sit around and spend five hours on the phone and stay up all night drafting litigation to force their hand, you're going to be stuck," she said.
As news of these false hearing dates spread among the immigration attorney community, some lawyers are taking proactive steps to protect their clients from being returned to Mexico after their court cases are closed.
Siobhan Waldron, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, wrote a letter to Mexican immigration officials explaining that her client had no future hearing date and outlined a step-by-step process Mexican officials could take to verify that her client's case had been closed by using the Department of Justice hotline.
The letter worked at first.
When CBP officers tried to return Waldron's client to Mexico on Nov. 1 with a false January 2020 hearing date, her client showed the note to Mexican officials, who refused to take her in. However, the next day, CBP officers sent Waldron's client back to Mexico with another false court date and this time did not allow her to show Mexican officials her lawyer's letter that she kept in a special folder, Waldron said.
"They didn't let her take it out," Waldron said. "They said, 'you can't present anything from that folder.'"
The lawyer plans to file "any complaint you can imagine" to CBP, DHS and other regulatory agencies because, "these agents need to be held accountable."
Her client is still in Mexico, too afraid to walk outside because she has already been kidnapped and assaulted, Waldron added.
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