WASHINGTON (CN) – Ordered by a federal judge to “turn that plane around,” attorneys for the U.S. government confirmed Friday that they have returned to Texas a mother and child whom they deported the day before to El Salvador.
The mom, identified only as “Carmen” in court filings, is one of 12 Central American asylum-seeking parents and children who joined a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump administration.
Led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the case is challenging a directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June that makes it more difficult for those fleeing gang and domestic violence to get asylum in the United States.
Arguing that Congress intended there to be a low threshold for immigrants who seek asylum based on a credible fear of gang and domestic violence in their home countries, the ACLU says the new standards frustrate this objective, effectively depriving the plaintiffs of their right to pursue asylum.
Though several of the plaintiffs in the case had already been deported, government attorneys assured U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan during a Wednesday emergency hearing that they would wait until midnight Thursday, absent a court order, to remove Carmen and her daughter.
The ACLU has asked the court to stay deportations while it considers the case. They say Carmen is seeking asylum to escape a violent gang that threatened to kill her and her daughter unless they pay a monthly tax, as well as decades of sexual abuse from her husband.
During a Thursday court hearing well before the midnight deadline, however, it came to light that the United States had already taken Carmen and her daughter from the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and put them on a plane back to El Salvador.
Sullivan, who still had not ruled on the bid for a temporary restraining order, called the move “outrageous.”
“Somebody in pursuit of justice who has alleged a credible fear in her mind and is seeking justice in a United States court is just – is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her? It’s outrageous,” Sullivan said after learning of the family’s removal.
Sullivan’s hearing was ongoing as Carmen and her daughter were put on an 8:15 flight from San Antonio to El Salvador.
“Someone made a decision to remove those plaintiffs and I’m not happy at all about that,” Sullivan said. “And if they aren’t brought back forthwith, I’m going to issue orders to show cause why people should not be held in contempt of court, and I’m going to start with the attorney general.”
Although the government had argued Thursday that the court lacks jurisdiction to enter such a stay while it considers the merits of the case, Sullivan issued a temporary stay of deportations from the bench to give the court time to consider whether it has jurisdiction.
He ordered both parties to submit by a proposed briefing schedule for further proceedings by 5 p.m. Friday, and said he would rule on the merits of the case as quickly as possible.
Sullivan wants a report from the government by 5 p.m. Monday explaining why Carmen and her daughter were deported, despite representations from Justice Department attorney Erez Reuveni that the government would not do so ahead of the 11:59 deadline.