A federal judge on Thursday ordered a plane carrying two undocumented immigrants who had just been deported to El Salvador be turned around because they are witnesses in a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
"He said something like, 'I'm going to issue an order to show cause why I shouldn't hold the government in contempt, I'm going to start with the attorney general, ' " Chang Newell said, explaining that Sullivan was suggesting he would issue an order that would require the government to explain why they didn't deserve to be held in contempt.
Sessions has led efforts by the Trump Administration to crack down on illegal immigration, including the adoption of a zero tolerance policy that briefly included separating immigrant parents from their children while they were in USA detention. "They falsely claim it will save money by letting the criminals back onto our streets early", he said. By Thursday evening, the mother and her daughter had landed in El Salvador.
"We also have dirty immigration lawyers who are encouraging their otherwise unlawfully present clients to make false claims of asylum, providing them with the magic words needed to trigger the credible fear process", Sessions said previous year.
It was a dramatic illustration of the Trump administration's zeal for deportations running up against an increasing number of court challenges against its immigration policies.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of twelve plaintiffs, challenging Sessions' decision to refuse asylum based on claims of domestic and gang violence. Sullivan threatened to hold them in contempt of court if they failed to comply with his order to return the woman and her daughter to the United States.
The ACLU said later that government attorneys confirmed to them after the hearing that the pair was on a flight en route to El Salvador. When court was in recess in the middle of the hearing, however, an attorney with the ACLU-which is representing them in a lawsuit-received an email notification that Carmen and her child had been taken from the detention center where they had been kept, and were being deported.
Under a court order issued on Thursday, those eight asylum-seekers, including the mother and daughter, will be allowed to remain in the US while Sullivan considers the case. An immigration judge affirmed the decision on July 23.
Another plaintiff, known in court papers only as Gina, said her brother was killed and her son maimed as part of a feud with a powerful family in Honduras. When she went to buy flowers for his funeral she was accosted and the gang threatened to kill her.
The Trump administration fought to preserve the right to deport the women, saying they can still argue their cases even if they're back home.
Attorneys for the civil rights organization and Department of Justice had agreed to delay removal proceedings for Carmen and her child until 11:59 p.m. Thursday so they could argue the matter in court.
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