Jeff Sessions threatened by judge with contempt over asylum deportation
A furious federal judge threatened Thursday to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court in a touchy case over asylum seekers’ rights after learning that some plaintiffs might have been deported in defiance of his wishes.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said the government appeared to have “spirited away” a woman and her child who’d fled a violent husband and were seeking asylum in the U.S., but who were struggling against a new tougher asylum policy Mr. Sessions created in June.
The mother, known in court files by the pseudonym “Carmen,” was taken from her detention facility and likely put on a plane Thursday morning, the American Civil Liberties Union said even though the Justice Department had promised the court none of the plaintiffs would be deported before the judge could rule.
“Turn that plane around,” the judge ordered the government, while repeatedly saying he was “extremely upset” with the development.
He threatened to start issuing show-cause orders and then hold people in contempt of court if the situation wasn’t immediately remedied.
“I’m gonna start with the attorney general,” he told the Justice Department’s lawyer, Erez Reuveni.
Judge Sullivan also issued a full ban on deportations for 10 other plaintiffs women and children who, like Carmen and her child, fled what they said was domestic abuse to try to seek asylum in the U.S.
They all say they have run into trouble making their asylum case under Mr. Sessions’ new stricter policy.
Under that policy, which came in the form of a new legal precedent Mr. Sessions issued in June, asylum seekers can no longer argue that domestic abuse or gang violence in their home countries is sufficient to get on the asylum track.
Mr. Sessions also ruled the asylum-seekers must prove their home governments either actively encouraged their persecution, or were so incapable that they were culpable.
He said the changes were meant to get the asylum system back to its original intent of providing protections to those fleeing government persecution for their race, religion, political beliefs or membership in some other protected class.
The asylum system has become a major issue in the immigration debate as Central Americans are increasingly making asylum claims as a way of trying to immigrate to the U.S.
Immigrant-rights groups say they are deserving, while security experts say they are exploiting loopholes and most of them will eventually be rejected. But that process can take years, and few of the asylum-seekers show up to be deported if they lost their cases.