Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Deportation Halted After Judge Threatens To Hold Sessions In Contempt

August 10, 2018 - 11:56 am

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News) -- A federal judge made waves this week by threatening to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt unless a mother and daughter were returned to the U.S.

On Thursday, Washington, D.C. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan chastised Sessions and the Trump administration for attempting to remove a mother and daughter from the country in the middle of a court hearing appealing their deportation.

As first reported by The Washington Post,  Sullivan threatened to hold Sessions in contempt of court as he halted the deportation process.

“There was an asylum hearing going on, and the deportation order comes, and the judge says: ‘Wait a minute. I’m trying to have a legal discussion and a process, which an asylum seeker is entitled to receive to make a judgment on that, and you’re deporting the person while the process is going on,’” said CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of twelve plaintiffs, challenging Sessions' decision to refuse asylum based on claims of domestic and gang violence. Attorneys for the ACLU and the Justice Department reached an agreement to stay one plaintiff's deportation until after the hearing.

During a recess, ACLU attorneys learned that the plaintiff, known in court papers as Carmen, and her daughter had been removed from a detention center and were potentially on their way to the San Antonio airport, where they would be placed on a flight leaving the United States.

Sullivan halted the deportation, and then reportedly called for the Justice Department to "turn the plane around."

"This is pretty outrageous," Sullivan said after learning about the removal, according to the Post. "That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?"

The judge continued that he was "not happy about this at all," and that the situation was "not acceptable."

“They were quickly turned right around because of what the judge ordered here in this local district saying, ‘You know, you can’t send two clients off when their lawyers is still arguing on their behalf and ahead of the deadline that had been set,’” said CBS “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan.

An administration official told CBS News that the flight left El Salvador for Houston at about 3 p.m.  The plane was set to arrive back in Houston at about 5:30 p.m., and then the mother and daughter would be driven back to Dilley, Texas, the facility where they were being held. The official said the mother and daughter never got off the plane in El Salvador.

The administration official declined to comment on the threat to hold Sessions in contempt.

Garrett said the attempt to deport the mother and daughter highlights some Trump administration policies.

“It goes to a couple of things – one, the administration says if you’re seeking asylum, you can go through that; your life will be protected. Well in this case, they were seeking asylum and they were deported in the middle of a process, so that undercuts the assurances that administration has given about what will happen to you if you’re seeking asylum,” Garrett told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot and Kevin Rincon. “The second thing is it just creates this very clear sort of paper trail, that if you’re eligible for deportation, this administration is going to accelerate that process as rapidly as it can; as publicly as it can, to drive home the message that it’s going to be tough on illegal or undocumented immigration. All of that came to the fore and smashed into each other right in this case.”

The underlying issue is that the Trump administration has changed the rules for what conditions qualify for people to enter the United States in search of asylum.

“One of the things that’s at the heart of this sort of debate here is the Trump administration tightened the definitions that can be used to claim asylum when you are trying to enter the United States on legal grounds,” Brennan said. “It used to be, until very recently in the past month or so, that you could claim fear for your life due to domestic abuse as a reason for not being able to return home, and gang violence also, and this woman and her child were claiming on the basis that she was suffering horribly at the hands of her husband who abused her even after they had separated; had raped her.”

Sessions announced that fleeing domestic and gang violence would no longer be considered grounds for asylum in June. Earlier on Thursday morning he spoke in Macon, Georgia, about administration efforts to combat violent crime. He discussed recidivism rates among immigrants convicted of felonies and then released.

"There are those who would rather that we go easy on cartels and gangs. They falsely claim it will save money by letting the criminals back onto our streets early," he said. "They use innocent-sounding terms like 'low-level, nonviolent offender' to make people we're dealing with mostly in our criminal justice system aren't serious criminals. Unfortunately, that's not true."

Jeff Pegues contributed to this report.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News contributed to this report.)