Judge blocks deportation, threatens to hold Sessions in contempt

Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News/TNS

An incensed federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Thursday reversed the deportation of a domestic violence survivor and her daughter and threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt after finding out the Trump administration had put them on a flight to El Salvador even though their appeal was ongoing.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tore into a Justice Department lawyer after he learned during a hearing in Washington that the mother and daughter had been deported hours earlier – despite assurances from the government that they wouldn’t be, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

“This is pretty outrageous,” the judge said, according to the ACLU. “That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys argue for her in court.”

Sullivan ordered the plane be turned around and threatened to hold the government in contempt, starting with Sessions himself. The whereabouts of the woman, who is only known as Carmen in court papers, was not immediately known.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment and referred inquires to the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are complying with the court’s order, and upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs will not disembark and will be promptly returned to the United States,” a DHS official said, declining to comment on why the deportation occurred in the first place.

The official said the plane was en route back to the U.S. shortly after 5 p.m. EDT.

The Washington Post first reported the unwarranted deportation of Carmen and her daughter.

The ACLU and government attorneys had agreed ahead of the hearing to delay their removal until midnight Thursday so they could petition the matter in court.

Carmen and 11 co-plaintiffs, all of whom say they are fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence, are suing Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Cissna and Executive Office for Immigration Review Director James McHenry over the Trump administration’s recently adopted “expedited removal” policy.

The policy instructs authorities to “generally” deny asylum to immigrants fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. Critics have blasted the new policy as an affront to human rights and a systemic attack on immigrant women.

ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell, who was present for the Thursday hearing, said she’s “sickened” by the administration’s “rush to deport as many immigrants as possible.”

“The Trump administration is putting these women and children in grave danger of being raped, beaten or killed,” said Newell. “We are thrilled the stay of removal was issued but sickened that the government deported two of our clients – a mom and her little girl – in the early morning hours. We will not rest until our clients are returned to safety.”

The ACLU suit, filed Tuesday, challenges the administration’s new interpretation of “credible fear.”

Under previous administrations, immigrants were granted full asylum hearings in court if they could prove they had “credible fear” of returning to their native countries because their government was “unable or unwilling” to protect them. Under the new standard, which was implemented by Sessions in June, immigrants have to prove that their government condones the violence.

Carmen and her 11 co-plaintiffs, three of whom are children, all had their “credible fear” interviews denied.