A federal judge ordered the government to return an asylum-seeking mother and her daughter to the United States after the Trump administration revealed in a Thursday court hearing that they had sent the migrants to Central America while the court was still considering their case.
DC District Judge Emmet Sullivan then blocked the administration from deporting the two plaintiffs while they are fighting for their right to stay in the USA - reportedly excoriating the administration and threatening to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan made the threat while considering whether to issue an emergency order to block deportation of immigrants challenging a new policy that generally denies asylum to people fleeing domestic violence and gang violence.
Named in the ACLU's lawsuit are Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Cissna and Executive Office for Immigration Review Director James McHenry.
The plaintiffs on the plane are identified in the lawsuit as Carmen and her minor daughter, although Carmen is a pseudonym, the network reported. The plane landed in El Salvador, but Carmen and her daughter "never got off" and were flown back to the US, according to NBC News.
A DHS official said in a statement that the department is "complying with the court's order, and upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs will not disembark and will be promptly returned to the United States".
The lawsuit seeks a stay of removal for immigrants who, the ACLU argues, could face "grave danger of being raped, beaten, or killed" in their home countries if they are forced to return to them.
President Donald Trump and top officials have criticized existing protections for asylum-seekers, arguing they allow too many people to stay in the USA under the claim they suffer persecution at home.
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From there, they learned, she may already have been taken to the San Antonio airport and put on an 8:15 s.m. flight back to Central America.
The ACLU said the government had on Wednesday assured the court that no plaintiff in the case would be deported before midnight on Thursday.
But Sessions dramatically limited that category in June, ruling out border-crossers who claim asylum because they are victims of domestic abuse or gang violence - unless the brutality originates with their home governments. Carmen also alleged her husband was abusive.
But their case was halted when officers found they did not have a "credible fear of persecution".
In June, the Trump administration determined that fleeing domestic violence and gang violence would no longer be accepted as a means for refuge in the United States.
During the hearing, the judge ordered a temporary stay on deporting the nine women and three children who filed the lawsuit, according to a court filing.
Two of the children and their mothers were deported before the suit was filed; the rest were being detained in Texas and NY. Sessions argued that a lack of policing in a given country "cannot establish as asylum claim".
None of the adults had been separated from their children as part of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy.