“Turn the plane around”
by Tom Sullivan
The Trump administration’s rush to deport as many immigrants as possible as swiftly as possible met with a swift kick from a federal judge Thursday (NPR):
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in contempt of court if they fail to return to the U.S. a mother and daughter seeking asylum. The immigrants were deported ahead of a scheduled hearing with the court on Thursday.
A transcript of Thursday’s hearing shows U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan angry after being told the asylum-seekers had been deported and were on a plane out of the U.S. even while a government attorney was telling him they wouldn’t be deported before midnight.
“This is pretty outrageous,” Sullivan said, “Somebody in pursuit of justice in a United States court is just — is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?”
During a court recess, ACLU lawyers for a woman known in court filings as Carmen received word the woman and her child had already been placed on plane to El Salvador.
“I’m not happy about this at all,” Sullivan continued. “This is not acceptable.” Sullivan issued an order blocking the removal of eight more immigrants from the same lawsuit and ordered federal officials to “turn the plane around,” the Washington Post reports:
“In compliance with the court’s order, upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs did not disembark and were promptly returned to the United States,” a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official said Thursday evening.
Eunice Lee, who is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the case and co-legal director at the University of California at Hastings’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, said: “It must have been absolutely terrifying for them to think they would be returning to a country where they raised very credible claims of persecution and death. It’s outrageous to me that while we were working around the clock, filing briefings for this case’s early morning hearing, that people in the government were actively arranging for Carmen’s deportation.”
The ACLU issued a statement on the proceedings:
Our clients on that deportation flight, Carmen* and her daughter, fled El Salvador to escape two decades of horrific sexual abuse by her husband and death threats from a violent gang. Carmen was repeatedly raped, stalked, and threatened with death by her abusive husband, even when they were living apart. In June 2018, she and her daughter escaped, seeking asylum in the United States. Despite asylum officers finding that their accounts were truthful, they were ultimately denied them asylum protection because they did not have a “credible fear of persecution.”
This disconnect is the direct result of new policies issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that wrongly instruct asylum officers to deny whole categories of asylum claims, specifically gutting protections for immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality.
Sessions has now characterized these types of persecution as insufficient to invoke asylum protections, despite decades of settled domestic and international law which recognize gender-based persecution as a basis for asylum. Federal courts have also recognized asylum claims in a variety of circumstances involving gang brutality.
Seeking asylum is not a crime. It is protected under U.S. and international law. From the introduction to the CONVENTION RELATING TO THE STATUS OF REFUGEES:
The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum. Importantly, the Convention contains various safeguards against the expulsion of refugees. The principle of nonrefoulement is so fundamental that no reservations or derogations may be made to it. It provides that no one shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom.
Not that we bother with niceties like adhering to international law anymore. (Or to any other kind of law, for that matter.)
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