Watchdog says agents violated court orders in initial travel ban rollout: report

Watchdog says agents violated court orders in initial travel ban rollout: report
© Greg Nash

The botched rollout of the Trump administration's first executive order banning travel from several majority Muslim nations resulted in federal agents violating court orders by telling airlines not to admit certain passengers, according to a Homeland Security watchdog.

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) inspector general informed lawmakers this week that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents violated at least two court orders in their zeal to enforce the new mandate and prevent specific passengers from the nations on the ban from boarding a plane.

“While CBP was compliant at U.S. ports of entry with travelers who had already arrived, CBP was very aggressive in preventing affected travelers from boarding aircraft bound for the United States, and took actions that, in our view, violated two separate court orders that enjoined them from this activity,” Inspector General John Roth wrote.


Roth added that the problems were caused by the customs agency being caught "off guard" by the executive order, which Trump rolled out in January.

The order originally banned all travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations. The agency, Roth said, was unable to get answers to "basic questions" about the order during its implementation.

“The leadership of CBP, the DHS entity primarily responsible for implementation of the order, had virtually no warning that the Executive Order (EO) was to be issued or the scope of the order, and was caught by surprise,’’ Roth said.

“During the early period of implementation of the order, neither CBP nor the department was sure of the answers to basic questions as to the scope of the order," he said.

According to Roth, the Trump administration is now seeking to hide its failures by engaging in a battle with the inspector general over whether large sections of the watchdog's report should be redacted prior to its public release.

In the letter to three Senate Democrats, Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - COVID-19 fears surround Thanksgiving holiday Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Ill.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick MORE (D-Ill.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats must turn around Utah police arrest man driving 130 mph claiming he was going to kill former Missouri senator McCaskill congratulates Hawley on birth of daughter MORE (D-Mo.), Roth wrote that he had never encountered an agency trying to use this system to pursue such heavy redactions to a report.

Trump's original travel ban was blocked by a federal judge in February, who wrote that states "have met their burden of demonstrating that they face immediate and irreparable injury as a result of the signing and implementation of the executive order."

The administration responded to the block by unveiling a second and then a third version of the ban, the last of which is currently in effect.

In response to Roth's letter, Duckworth and Durbin issued a joint statement calling the Trump administration's attempts to redact parts of his report "unacceptable."

"It’s disappointing that the DHS Inspector General found that CBP violated two separate federal court orders during the chaotic implementation of this ill-conceived Executive Order, but it is frankly unacceptable that the Trump Administration now appears to be hiding that information not just from Congress, but from the public as well," the two senators said in the statement.

If the Trump administration successfully hides large sections of the report, they warn, there will be "repercussions in Congress.”