A federal judge on Thursday threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE in contempt after discovering that the Trump administration attempted to transfer a woman and her daughter out of the country while an appeal hearing for their deportation was underway.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for an emergency order to halt the expedited removal of immigrants seeking asylum from domestic abuse and gang violence after he learned the government had put a plaintiff in the case and her daughter on a flight to Central America.
The ACLU, which is challenging Sessions's decision to no longer grant asylum to the victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, said the government had assured the court on Wednesday no plaintiff in the case would be deported before midnight.
"This is pretty outrageous,” Sullivan said, according to The Washington Post. “That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?
"I’m not happy about this at all," he said. "This is not acceptable."
The woman, identified in court papers as "Carmen," is a plaintiff in the ACLU's lawsuit filed this week against Sessions. The organization is suing Sessions over his recent decision to stop granting asylum for people who have faced domestic and gang violence.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and attorneys for the ACLU had reportedly agreed to postpone the hearings for Carmen until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday in order for the parties to argue the case in court.
But ACLU attorneys were told that Carmen and her daughter had been taken from a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, and may have been headed to the airport in San Antonio on Thursday morning for a flight out of the U.S., the Post reported.
The newspaper reported that Sullivan, an appointee of former President Clinton, mandated that the government “turn the plane around" after ruling in favor of the ACLU's petition to stay removal.
In a statement, a Department of Homeland Security official said the agency is working with the court's order.
The official said "upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs will not disembark and will be promptly returned to the United States."
Just before 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the official said the plane was en route back to the U.S.
The DOJ declined to comment when reached by The Hill.
“In its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, the Trump administration is putting these women and children in grave danger of being raped, beaten, or killed,” Jennifer Chang Newell, the managing attorney of ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case in court, said in a statement.
“We are thrilled the stay of removal was issued but sickened that the government deported two of our clients — a mom and her little girl — in the early morning hours. We will not rest until our clients are returned to safety.”
The development comes the same week the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of 12 migrants against Sessions for restricting the causes for which an immigrant can be granted asylum.
All 12 of the migrants failed their initial “credible fear” interviews.
“We’re suing Jeff Sessions for illegally denying asylum protections to immigrants fleeing domestic violence and gang brutality," the ACLU said in a tweet earlier this week. "These policies undermine the fundamental human rights of women and violate decades of settled asylum law.”
Updated at 5:26 p.m.