Judge Orders Return of Two Deported Asylum Seekers to U.S.


A federal judge on Thursday stopped the deportations of an asylum-seeking woman and her young daughter who were already aboard a plane to El Salvador, criticizing the Trump administration for trying to remove them while they were challenging their cases in court.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court if U.S. officials didn’t immediately return the pair to the U.S.

“It’s outrageous,” Judge Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “I’m also directing the government to turn that plane around either now or when it lands, turn that plane around and bring those people back to the United States.”

An official at the Department of Homeland Security said the agency was complying with the judge’s order. “Upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs didn’t disembark and are currently en route back to the United States,” the official said. They were back in the U.S. on Thursday night.

The back-and-forth was the latest wrinkle in the administration’s immigration crackdown, coming as part of a lawsuit taking aim at a policy that says victims of domestic violence in their home countries don’t automatically qualify for asylum in the U.S.

The woman, known as Carmen in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, was among several immigrants challenging the policy.

The administration argues that the country cannot grant asylum to people who are the victims of individual crimes, rather than targets of broader political or social persecution. The ACLU says the new policy would consign many to violence and abuse in their own countries.

The government had agreed not to deport Carmen and her daughter before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, but the judge learned Thursday morning that the pair was already on a plane back to Central America.

He ordered the woman and her daughter to be immediately returned to the U.S., saying it was unacceptable that immigrants who alleged credible fear should be “spirited away” while their attorneys argued their cases.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Carmen and her daughter fled their home in El Salvador seeking refuge from years of sexual abuse by her husband and death threats from a gang, the ACLU said in its lawsuit. They two had been held at a South Texas residential center.

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