Taxpayer-Funded Immigrants' Rights Group Is Suing the Biden Admin Over Its Asylum Processing App

Al Otro Lado, a 'bi-national' nonprofit based in California and Tijuana, has received millions of dollars in government grants

(John Moore/Getty Images)
June 21, 2024

An immigrants’ rights group that received $480,000 from the Biden administration last year is suing the administration over its asylum-processing app, which it says violates anti-discrimination laws.

Al Otro Lado, which has received more than $3 million in taxpayer dollars between 2018 and 2022, according to its available tax filings, last month sued the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol over its CBP One asylum-processing app. According to the lawsuit, the app is allegedly "prone to frequent glitches and other technical issues," "language-limited," "difficult to use or inaccessible to certain asylum seekers with disabilities," and "often has difficulty recognizing darker features and complexions."

The group is leading a separate fight at the appellate court level to reverse a policy to turn immigrants away at the border if they aren’t granted an asylum claim interview through the same app, alleging that it runs afoul of U.S. law and government guidance, "asylum seekers’ due process rights," and international obligations.

Al Otro Lado’s lawfare comes as American voters view the illegal immigration surge under Biden as the nation’s top crisis. Biden earlier this month issued an election-season executive order claiming to tighten the border, although tens of thousands of immigrants have crossed illegally since it was signed. Border agents in California have been ordered to keep releasing asylum claimants from most countries into the United States.

Launched in 2016 with less than $10,000 to its name to offer legal support for deportees back to Mexico, Al Otro Lado raised more than $7 million in 2022, nearly $2.4 million of which were taxpayer-funded grants according to its tax filings. Its war chest helps fuel dozens of legal fights mounted by the group, whose name translates as "to the other side" in Spanish, and which operates as a "bi-national" nonprofit based in both California and the Mexican border city Tijuana.

California taxpayers alone have paid at least $1.6 million in no-bid contracts since 2019 to Al Otro Lado for immigrant legal aid through the state’s social services agency. This agency did not immediately respond to questions about the funding, funneling the Washington Free Beacon’s request for comment through a public records request that has yet to be fulfilled.

Last November, Al Otro Lado received $480,000 in subcontracted awards through the Department of Justice to give legal orientation to "custodians of unaccompanied minors." The subcontract was funneled from a $450 million award to another progressive pro-immigration legal group called Acacia Center for Justice. The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.

Al Otro Lado did not respond to a request for comment.

Jon Feere, director of investigations for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the group’s rapid expansion highlights the vast amount of capital available for the "anti-border crowd" from not just the corporate interests wanting cheap, foreign labor but also government grants "that are characterized as humanitarian in nature, but are usually used to file lawsuits against ICE and pro-enforcement efforts."

"There's so much money on the anti-border side that new activist groups seem to pop up every month, all with their hands out," Feere said. "One day they're a tiny group nobody's ever heard of, and the next day they're a multimillion-dollar player working to facilitate mass illegal immigration."

Al Otro Lado leaped to prominence under President Donald Trump, jumping in as legal representation for members of the massive illegal immigrant caravans that made headlines in 2018. One of its programs, called the "Border Rights Project," uses lawsuits not just to change government policy but also to get illegal immigrants released from ICE custody.