Despite specific orders from US federal judges to halt Muslim deportations, America’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents continued to deport people from seven Muslim-Majority countries, according to members of Congress and attorneys. They described the situation as a constitutional crisis in the US.
“Rogue customs and Border Patrol agents continue to try to get people on to planes,” Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told reporters at JFK airport in New York. “A lot of people have been handcuffed, a lot of people who don’t speak English are being coerced into taking involuntary departures.”
On Sunday afternoon, four Democratic members of the House of Representatives arrived at Dulles airport in Virginia on word that people had been detained and denied access to lawyers.
“We have a constitutional crisis today,” representative Don Beyer wrote on Twitter. “Four members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”
Representative Jamie Raskin, also at the airport, tweeted that the federal agency had given “no answers yet” about whether agents were ignoring the courts.
“As far as I know no attorney has been allowed to see any arriving passenger subject to Trumps exec order at Dulles today,” Silvers tweeted on Sunday evening. “CBP appears to be saying people in their custody not ‘detained’ technically & Dulles international arrivals areas not in the United States.”
Late on Saturday night, federal judges in New York, Virginia and Massachusetts ordered a temporary halt to the president’s deportation of people who had arrived in the US with valid visas.
The New York judge did not rule on whether Trump’s orders were constitutional, but her courtroom was packed with civil rights advocates and protesters who spilled out into the streets of Brooklyn, where thousands demonstrated.
At the height of protests at JFK on Saturday, about 5,000 protesters swarmed terminal four after an estimated 17 passengers, including green-card holders, were detained for hours. Travellers were released as Sunday wore on.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, posted on Twitter that homeland security secretary John Kelly had assured him the court order would be followed. “All those still in airports expected to be admitted,” Schumer tweeted. The DHS said in a statement that it would “enforce all of the president’s executive orders” but also that officials “will comply with judicial orders”.
In New York, though, lawyers described official resistance to requests for basic information on those being held.
“We continue to face border patrol’s noncompliance and chaos at airports around the country,” said Marielena Hincapie, director of the National Immigration Law Center. Officials, she said, were “kafkaesque” in their confused responses, adding that Trump’s order “has already caused irrevocable harm, it has already caused chaos”.
Heller said some border agents were trying to force detainees to surrender green cards, while other, “good Samaritan” agents were sympathetic to travellers, protesters and attorneys. “There is no method to this madness,” Heller said. She added that some agents had told attorneys: “Call Donald Trump.”
Lee Gelernt, the attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued in Brooklyn on Saturday night, said lawyers were trying to record incidents of noncompliance so they could go back to court. “The judge will certainly want to know if her orders are not being complied with,” he said. “Eventually you could get to something like contempt, but I think we’re a long way from that.”
Gelernt said that Saturday’s suits were the “first step” in a broader challenge to Trump’s orders. “We have to say no to discrimination based on religion.”