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‘Constitutional Crisis’: Border Agents Defy Judges’ Orders on Trump Muslim Nation Visa Ban

Demonstrators protest President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees and any travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations; San Francisco International Airport, January 29, 2017. (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

In what one congressman called a “constitutional crisis,” US border agents are reportedly defying federal court rulings and detaining people from seven majority Muslim countries — including green card holders — and denying them access to attorney

The Guardian reports four Democratic members of Congress rushed to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia after learning that people were being held without access to legal aid. “We have a constitutional crisis today,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) tweeted on Sunday morning. “Four members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”

On Saturday, five separate federal judges — Judge Ann Donnelly of the US District Court in Brooklyn, NY, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Arlington, VA, Judge Allison Burroughs and Magistrate Judge Judith Dein in Boston and U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly in Seattle — issued rulings to prevent the deportations of people from seven majority Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) who had arrived in the country before President Donald Trump’s executive order banning their entry went into effect.

The Huffington Post reports US Customs and Border Protection agents at Dulles airport are openly defying orders from numerous federal judges and blocking lawyers from talking to lawful permanent US residents detained there. “We aren’t getting any access at this point,” Sara Dill, director of the American Bar Association’s standards project, told the Huffington Post on Sunday.

“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.’”

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

CBP issued a statement claiming it was complying with both the court and executive orders:

Upon issuance of the court orders yesterday CBP immediately began taking steps to comply with the orders. Concurrently, the Department of Homeland Security continues to work with our partners in the Departments of Justice and State to implement President Trump’s executive order on protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.

“We are committed to ensuring that all individuals affected by the executive orders, including those affected by the court orders, are being provided all rights afforded under the law,” the statement continued. “We are also working closely with airline partners to prevent travelers who would not be granted entry under the executive orders from boarding international flights to the US. Therefore, we do not anticipate that further individuals traveling by air to the United States will be affected.”

The CBP statement sought to clarify confusion over whether lawful permanent residents are affected by Trump’s ban. Initially, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokeswoman said “it will bar green card holders.” Later, a senior White House official said green card holders who had left the United States and wanted to return would have to submit to addition screening at a US embassy or consulate. However, the DHS statement issued on Sunday said “the entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest.”

“Accordingly, absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations,” it said.

Trump’s executive order sparked widespread worldwide outrage, with major protests erupting at airports across the United States in cities including New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. Some critics noted that there have been no fatal terrorist attacks on US soil by citizens of the seven countries on Trump’s ban list, while all 19 of the September 11, 2001 hijackers were from countries excluded from the ban, chiefly Saudi Arabia. Others drew historical parallels between Trump’s action and the refusal of the United States and other nations to come to the aid of Jewish refugees trying to flee the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust or Rwandans fleeing genocide in 1994.

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