Lawsuit Seeks to Verify Accounts of Coercion During First Travel Ban

WASHINGTON (CN) – On the same day a modified version of President Trump’s second visa ban took effect, a FOIA lawsuit is seeking to determine the veracity of media reports that U.S. residents detained under the first ban were coerced into surrendering their residency statuses.

The James Madison Project filed the complaint on Thursday along with Noah Shachtman, the executive editor of The Daily Beast, and politics reporter Betsy Woodruff.

On March 3, they requested instructions given to Customs and Border Protection officials under the parameters of the first visa ban for the presentation of the I-407 form, which once signed revokes a person’s lawful permanent residence status.

They also asked for communications among CBP officials mentioning the form, the number of people who signed one between Jan. 27 and Feb. 5, and copies of those forms, according to the 8-page complaint.

To date, the lawsuit claims they have not received a substantive response to their request from Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.

President Trump signed the first visa ban executive order on Jan. 27, which temporarily blocked refugee and visa admissions for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries, and indefinitely blocked Syrian refugee admissions.

It sparked protests at airports across the country and prompted hundreds of attorneys to flock to airports as well to offer pro bono legal assistance to detained travelers.

Although federal courts had issued four emergency injunctions by Jan. 29 to stop the deportation of travelers detained under the executive order, news reports emerged that CBP officials had refused to comply with the orders.

Another news report, which is cited in the complaint, contained claims from several attorneys representing detained travelers that CBP agents had pressured their clients into signing I-407 forms, thereby surrendering their lawful permanent resident status.

If true, it would “raise significant questions” about the appropriateness with which DHS officials acted in enforcing the ban, said filing attorney Brad Moss, an associate at the Washington-based Law Offices of Mark S. Zaid.

According to Moss, the media reports prompted his clients to file their March FOIA requests in order to gain some clarification about how the first ban was implemented.

“I mean, obviously we’re at version 3.0 now, so a bit of this is historical context,” he said in a phone interview. “But it’s still relevant in terms of understanding how the administration pursued the original ban and how they were guiding – if at all – these various DHS officials on how to handle lawful permanent residents.”

Moss said he doesn’t know what the record will show, leaving open the possibility the records his clients seek could refute what the attorneys of detained travelers told the media.

“I would certainly hope that this was not being done,” Moss said. “Because of the uncertainty around it, it would be nice to know and clarify for the historical context whether or not these officials really were trying to apply this type of very improper pressure.”

The Department of Homeland Security, the sole defendant named in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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