POLITICS
01/29/2017 03:17 am ET Updated Jan 29, 2017

Customs And Border Officials Defy Court Order On Lawful Residents

Customs officials aren't letting green card holders talk to lawyers.

DULLES, Virginia ― The U.S. government must “permit lawyers access to all legal permanent residents being detained at Dulles International Airport,” a federal judge in Virginia ordered late Saturday.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at this airport outside Washington, D.C., are defying the judge’s order, blocking attorneys from talking to the lawful permanent residents CBP is detaining here.

Border agents have detained dozens of people who were trying to enter the U.S. from the seven majority-Muslim countries covered by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Trump’s measure, which also froze the U.S. refugee resettlement program and banned admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely, requires even legal permanent residents from the affected countries to seek approval for re-entry on a case-by-case basis.

CBP agents never actually complied with the judge’s order, because they never let the attorneys into the area where the agency was holding the detainees, eight of the attorneys told HuffPost. By around 1 a.m. Sunday, some four hours after the order came down, CBP officials had allowed all but two of the people they had detained Friday and Saturday to enter the United States, according to two lawyers with knowledge of the matter. Both remaining detainees were Syrian nationals: One was denied entry late on Saturday, and the second was released on Sunday to apply for asylum in the U.S.

But as planes began arriving again early Sunday, detentions resumed, and CBP continued to deny lawyers access to the detainees.

“We aren’t getting any access at this point,” Sara Dill, director of the American Bar Association’s standards project said Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon, Rep Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted that he and three other members of Congress had asked CBP to comply with the court order and CBP refused.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who was at Dulles with Beyer and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), said they hadn’t gotten anywhere with their requests to CBP.

“This remains a nation of laws, not of men,” Connolly said.

On Saturday night, attorneys trying to speak to detainees complained of similar lack of access.

“It is unusual for an agency to deny a court order ― a court order clearly stating that these people need to be provided counsel,” Claudia Cubas, an attorney with Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said on Saturday night. “We asked several different agency heads to request access to speak to these people and were told ‘no.’”

The order, which was issued by Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, also forbade CBP from denying entry to any lawful permanent residents from Dulles for seven days. It’s unclear how many people, if any, CBP is still detaining at the airport. But the agency denied entry to at least one person, a Syrian national, from the airport Saturday. 

Sirine Shebaya, a Washington-based civil rights attorney, and Ofelia Calderon, an immigration attorney in Fairfax, Virginia, also said CBP was “absolutely” in contempt of Brinkema’s order.

Spokespeople for Customs and Border Protection did not respond to multiple email requests for an explanation of agency officials’ behavior.

Rob Robertson, an attorney representing a Syrian woman married to a visa holder, asked an airport official to admit him to the holding area. But the official said CBP was forbidding the airport from allowing the lawyers access to the detainees, Robertson said. His client had a visa to join her husband, a physician who already has a visa to work at a local hospital.

Robertson’s client, a Syrian national, was held overnight and released from detention Sunday. She will apply for asylum with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Also on Saturday night, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, stopped parts of Trump’s executive order from taking effect across the country, effectively precluding the deportation of refugees immigration authorities had previously approved for admission. 

Fatima Ebrahimi, an Iranian citizen who has been living in the U.S. for six years, emerged from the CBP holding area with her two young children, one of whom was disabled, shortly before midnight. Although she is a legal permanent resident from Bethesda, Maryland, and her two children are U.S. citizens, they were detained for about five hours. Ebrahimi was returning from a visit to Tehran where her friends had thrown her a surprise birthday party.

Ebrahimi did not say much about her experience in detention, explaining that she was exhausted. But she mentioned that she observed someone named Ebrahim being put in handcuffs after he protested the detention and said he did not want to return to his home country.

The reception area for international arrivals was packed with some 200 protesters and dozens of lawyers who showed up to help if they were needed. It mirrored protests at airports across the country where activists gathered to demonstrate against Trump’s executive order restricting immigration, travel and refugee admission.

The protesters cheered every person who walked out of the arrival area, whether they were coming from one of the blacklisted countries or not, chanting, “This is what America looks like,” and “Let them see their lawyers.”

“Just banning people, basically because of the color of their skin ― this is going back to the 1960s,” said Mikael Mikael, 31, an airport employee who lives in Frederick, Maryland, and is the son of Ethiopian immigrants. “This is not making America great again.”

Jason Cherkis contributed reporting. This post has been updated to note that attorneys continued to be denied access to detainees on Sunday and that lawyers offered new information about what happened to the detainees held Saturday.

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