ATLANTA (CN) – A CNN journalist claims in court he was unlawfully detained over the weekend as a result of President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order banning immigrants from seven countries in the Middle East from entering the United States.
In a lawsuit filed in the federal court in Atlanta on Monday, Mohammed Abdullah Tawfeeq says he's traveled abroad for CNN as both a producer and editor for years without incident.
However, he says, that changed on January 29, as he was returning to Atlanta from Baghdad.
Two days earlier, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning entry into the country from seven countries. Tawfeeq's native Iraq is one of seven countries affected by the ban.
“When Mr. Tawfeeq presented himself for inspection at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the [U.S. Customs and Border Patrol] officer in primary inspection notified him that he could be refused entry under the President’s recently-signed Executive Order,” the complaint says.
Tawfeeq says the officer scanned his passport and green card, and then began asking him pointed questions about the nature of his trip.
“CBP officials then told Mr. Tawfeeq to wait because they needed to seek ‘an e-mail’ concerning whether he would be allowed into the United States,” the lawsuit claims.
Tawfeeq says when he was finally allowed to leave the airport, customs officials offered him no explanation for their decision, no documents relating to his entry, and no one stamped his passport.
In his lawsuit he maintains the implementation of Trump's executive order and his detention at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, violates the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Tawfeeq, a permanent legal resident of the United States since June 2013, says that under the Immigration and Nationality Act, his status entitles him “to greater procedural protections than non-immigrants/temporary aliens.”
“The Executive Order has greatly increased the uncertainty involved in current and future international travel for returning lawful permanent residents like Mr. Tawfeeq,” the complaint says. “Defendants have sent conflicting signals regarding how and whether the Executive Order will be applied to permanent residents like Mr. Tawfeeq.”
According to the complaint, after Trump signed the executive order, the State Department announced it would apply to all returning immigrants.
A day later, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus attempted to clarify that it would not affect green card holders, but hours before Tawfeeq's flight landed in Atlanta, the Department of Homeland Security said “it will continue to enforce all of President Trump’s Executive Orders.”
The statement, release by Homeland Secretary John Kelly did say the order would not be applied to lawful permanent residents “absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare,” but Tawfeeq says it was and continues to be unclear whether the department's guidance to its employees matches that statement.
He is seeking a declaration that the ban does not apply to legal permanent residents as well as an order of mandamus preventing it from being applied to those individuals.
The defendants named in Tawfeeq's lawsuit are the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.
Tawfeeq is represented by Theresia Moser of Atlanta.
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