Judge: Airplane deporting asylum-seekers must be ‘turned around’

August 13, 2018

On August 9, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia heard about something that the Trump administration had just done that clearly angered him: The government, he learned, had deported an immigrant mother and daughter who were plaintiffs in a lawsuit that the judge had been hearing over asylum restrictions, NBC News reported.

Judge Sullivan was presiding over a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Gender and Refugee Studies on August 7. Earlier, he had been assured by the government in open court that no plaintiffs in the suit would be deported before midnight on August 10.

The ACLU said in a statement on its website, “Judge Sullivan was outraged, saying ‘it was unacceptable’ that someone who had alleged a credible fear and was ‘seeking justice in a U.S. court’ would be ‘spirited away’ while her attorneys were literally arguing on her behalf.”

So the judge took action: He demanded that the administration turn around the airplane carrying the plaintiffs to Central America and bring them back to the United States. And he ordered the government to stop removing plaintiffs in the case from the country who are seeking protection from gang and domestic violence.

What’s more, the jurist did something else out of the ordinary: He stated that if the government did not comply, “Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, III; Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Director Lee Francis Cissna; and Executive Office of Immigration Review Director James McHenry, preferably accompanied by their attorneys, shall be ORDERED to appear in Court to SHOW CAUSE why they should not be held in CONTEMPT OF COURT … ”

The plaintiffs on the plane are identified in the lawsuit as Carmen and her minor daughter J.A.C.F., although Carmen is a pseudonym, an attorney told NBC.

The plane was not able to turn around en route, but a Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News that the mother and daughter did not disembark in El Salvador Thursday evening and were being brought back to the United States.

“Carmen and her daughter are right now somewhere in the air between Texas and El Salvador,” ACLU’s lead attorney in the case, Jennifer Chang Newell, told NBC News just after the hearing.

If the ACLU succeeds in the lawsuit, the asylum restrictions ordered by Sessions could be deemed unlawful.

The ACLU commented, “What happened to Carmen embodies exactly why the stay [of such deportations] is necessary: This administration has shown time and time again that in its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, they will flout the law and callously put the most vulnerable people’s lives in danger.”

Fifty percent of voters polled recently by Quinnipiac University said they thought the administration is too aggressive in carrying out deportations, while 33% said it is acting in an appropriate manner.

Research contact: @ACLU

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