On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia learned that the federal government had deported an illegal immigrant mother and child. Both are plaintiffs in a lawsuit Judge Sullivan was hearing about restrictions to asylum applications. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were identified as Carmen and her minor daughter J.A.C.F. “Carmen” is a pseudonym.
In the lawsuit filed by the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the American Civil Liberties Union, the federal government had told the judge that no plaintiffs in the case would be deported before midnight on Friday. The lawsuit questions a decision by the Department of Justice to exclude domestic and gang violence as reasons for asylum. Lawyers for the plaintiffs sought a stay of removal.
In a Thursday tweet, ACLU wrote: “While in court, we found out that the government had deported a client and her young child just hours before, putting their lives at risk. This directly contradicts the government's commitment to the court that NO ONE would be removed until tomorrow at the earliest.”
According to NBC News, however, ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell affirmed,"Carmen and her daughter are right now somewhere in the air between Texas and El Salvador." ACLU lead attorney in the case Jennifer Chang Newell told NBC News.
As a result, Sullivan issued an order to the government to turn the plane around and return Carmen and J.A.C.F to the U.S. The judge threatened to bring contempt proceedings against Attorney General Jeff Sessions if his order is not obeyed by the federal government. He said that the deportation was “unacceptable.” Sullivan also ordered that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna and Executive Office for Immigration Review Director James McHenry may have to appear in court to explain why they should not be held in contempt.
"This is pretty outrageous," Sullivan said, according to the Washington Post. "That someone seeking justice in US court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?"
He continued, "I'm not happy about this at all."
A Department of Homeland Security official said the agency is "complying with the court’s order, and upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs will not disembark and will be promptly returned to the United States."
An ACLU attorney claimed that the Trump administration has put women and child asylum seekers in danger of murder and rape. The lawsuit claims that Carmen and her young daughter came from El Salvador after "two decades of horrific sexual abuse by her husband and death threats from a violent gang." According to the ACLU, Carmen’s husband raped and threatened to kill her even after she moved away. Also, a criminal gang threatened her at gun point to demand protection money or they would kill her and her daughter. However, after detaining her at the U.S. border, immigration authorities determined that Carmen did not meet "credible fear" threshold required for an asylum claim. An immigration judge affirmed that decision. The ACLU is seeking to use the story told by Carmen and others in order to change the DOJ ruling on asylum.
Judge Sullivan was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton.