Trump’s Feet Held to Fire for Airport ‘Black Sites’

(CN) — The day after the commonwealth of Virginia slapped President Donald Trump with a contempt motion, civil-rights attorneys in New York told a federal judge that his government refuses to provide a court-mandated list of people detained under the Muslim ban.

U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly had ordered the government to provide that information at a hearing on Saturday night, when she ruled to stay Trump’s executive order.

On Thursday afternoon, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt — taking the lead on the case for the group’s Immigrant Rights Project — told the court the people likely have been deported because of the government’s non-compliance.

“If we got their list from between Saturday night and Monday morning, they may not have been removed,” he said at a hearing Thursday afternoon.

At a press conference following the hearing, Becca Heller, director of the Urban Justice Center’s International Refugee Assistance Project, likened the John F. Kennedy Airport terminal to a CIA “black site,” where nobody knows how many have been detained.

“It could be up to hundreds, but we won’t know until we have the list,” Heller told reporters.

Estimates vary wildly about how many people the United States has held in custody as a result of Trump’s order.

As of Tuesday, Trump claimed on Twitter that 109 have been detained or denied entry into the country, while his own Department of Homeland Security put the number at 721 people who were denied boarding to the U.S., the New York Times reported.

Department of Justice attorney Steven Platt brazenly denied the United States had still been detaining anyone protected by Donnelly’s order.

“So, this list is a null set,” he told the court.

Bristling at this assertion, Gelernt noted that the government’s position flies in the face of reports from coast to coast.

In Los Angeles, an Iranian student named Sara Yarjani said that she told one customs officer about Donnelly’s ruling against the ban, but the officer only responded “wowza” and ordered her onto the plane.

Yarjani first shared her ordeal to the Agence French Presse news wire before signing a federal court declaration in the Central District of California.

U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon, who has taken over the case for Donnelly, urged the ACLU and their co-counsel to specify the demanded information in a court filing.

“If they refuse to give it to you, you can make an application with the court,” Amon said.

In an interview following the hearing, Gelernt told reporters that he and his counsel will let the process play out before turning up the heat.

“We are going to have to wait for what we see before we go for a contempt motion,” he said.

The commonwealth of Virginia took a more aggressive posture, filing a contempt motion on Wednesday.

Virginia’s eight-page legal brief details Trump and Customs and Border Protection’s defiance of a separate temporary restraining order there, which required access to counsel for detainees at Dulles International Airport.

“It should go without saying that compliance with a court order is fundamental to the rule of law,” Virginia’s Solicitor General Stuart Raphael wrote in the motion.

Virginia’s legal brief says immigration officers refused access that night to U.S. senators and congressmen for those detained at Dulles, even when presented with a federal order mandating access.

“At approximately 11:45 p.m., Sen. Corey Booker arrived on the scene and personally attempted to intercede with CBP officials, including presenting them with another copy of the TRO,” the motion states. “Booker reported that he was rebuffed: CBP ‘told me nothing, and it was unacceptable… I believe it’s a Constitutional crisis, where the executive branch is not abiding by the law.”

The following day, five Democratic congressmen from Virginia and Maryland — Reps. Bobby Scott, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jamie Raskin and John Delaney — corroborated the executive branch had been flouting the two other branches of U.S. government.

In a declaration to the court, Beyer said he went to the airport “in response to reports that CBP officials enforcing the Executive Order were detaining travelers and, contrary to the TRO, were not permitting them access to lawyers.”
Spending more than four hours at Dulles, Beyer described the family members of those detained as being “anxious, grief-stricken, and confused.”

“Attorney after attorney complained to me that CBP would not allow them access to the holding rooms where travelers may have been detained,” the congressman told DCist. “To my knowledge, not a single attorney was permitted access to any detained traveler. My congressional colleagues and I were also denied access to detainees.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general announced that he would probe the agency’s implementation of the ban, an investigation the office said was sparked by congressional requests, whistleblowers and hotline complaints.

Clare Kane, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School’s Workers and Immigrants Rights Advocacy Clinic, told reporters of some of the stories her email hotline — airportwatch@mailman.yale.edu — has been hearing since Trump’s executive order took effect.

“We’ve got parents looking for children,” she said. “We’ve got children looking for parents. We’ve got elderly people [detained for] hours and hours and hours.”

Judge Amon extended her predecessor’s stay until Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, litigation against the White House continues to balloon as New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formally intervened in his state, joining other attorneys general in Washington and Virginia and municipal lawyers in the city and county of San Francisco.

Hoping to penetrate the information blackout, the ACLU’s local branches filed 50 Freedom of Information Act requests coordinated across the nation. The civil liberties group has raked in more than $24 million in donations in a nationwide outpouring of support in its efforts to overturn Trump’s Muslim ban.

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