At least one contempt of court citation has been filed against President Donald Trump and another is likely to be submitted on Friday, charging that the administration has defied court orders by denying entry to the United States by an untold number of immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
The Commonwealth of Virginia filed its contempt motion late Wednesday night in Alexandria federal court. Meanwhile, an attorney who is trying to assist more than 200 Yemenis in gaining entry into this country said Thursday that her office will file a contempt motion of its own on Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
“The Trump administration is acting as if he is running a dictatorship,” attorney Julie Ann Goldberg said in a telephone interview from Djibouti, where her clients are being held in transit. “It’s as if he has forgotten there are three branches of government in this country and has totally disregarded any judicial order. He is ignoring them across the country.”
Judges in Brooklyn, Boston, Alexandria, Va., and Seattle, as well as two more in Los Angeles have issued orders to stop the government from carrying out the executive order Trump signed last Friday that suspended for 90 days the issuance of visas to people from seven countries deemed by the U.S. government to present a terrorist threat. They are Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Iraq and Yemen. The president’s executive order also suspended refugee admissions from all countries for 120 days.
Federal officials have issued statements saying that they are taking steps to “immediately” comply with the court orders. As of Thursday, the government had recommended denials of boardings to 1,136 immigrants with visas or other documents who sought entry into the United States, while they had granted waivers to 87 immigrants. Restrictions appear to have been lifted nationwide on lawful permanent residents of the United States, some of whom had difficulty gaining entry into the country in the earliest stages of the order’s rollout.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman on Thursday said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.
Virginia officials filed documents intervening in the Alexandria case, first brought on behalf of two brothers from Yemen who had been approved for permanent resident status in the United States. They were on their way to Flint, Mich., when they were stopped at Dulles International Airport. Attorneys for the brothers have since reached a settlement with the government to allow them into the country, according to court documents. Their suit, however, also included 60 other co-plaintiffs who were not specifically named in the suit.
Attorneys for the commonwealth sent letters to federal officials to determine the other plaintiffs’ status but had not heard back by Wednesday. It was then that they asked for the order to show cause on why the respondents, including the president, should not be held in contempt.
“Because respondents have failed without explanation to answer these eminently reasonable questions by members of Congress and the Attorney General of Virginia, it is appropriate for this Court to require respondents to demonstrate their compliance,” said the motion filed by Virginia Solicitor General Stuart A. Raphael with U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.
Goldberg, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the Los Angeles case, obtained an order from U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. that enjoined the government from blocking entry to 28 of her clients, some of whom she identified as U.S. citizens who have had problems getting their passports from the U.S. embassy in Djibouti.
Among the orders he issued on Tuesday, Birotte directed the State Department “to return plaintiffs their passports containing validly issued immigrant visas so that plaintiffs may travel to the United States on said visas.” Goldberg said that when she and her clients visited the embassy on Thursday, they were nearly arrested.
“We were violently thrown off the embassy property and they refused to give us the visas back,” Goldberg said. “The court order said you have to give these passports back. It’s a direct violation.”
Spot checks on Thursday with attorneys around the country who have obtained court orders against the government found that the named plaintiffs in most of the cases were being allowed into the country, but that hundreds more people with valid visas are being denied access.
“We don’t know how many people were moved and where they are,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said in a telephone interview from New York. “We’ve asked the government for a list of everyone who was detained after arriving. They still haven’t provided the list.”
Also on Thursday, the ACLU filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests for information on the implementation of Trump’s executive action since the issuance of the five court orders and whether the federal government is violating any of the court orders.
“It is imperative that the public learn if federal immigration officials are blatantly defying nationwide federal court orders that block President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban,” said Mitra Ebadolahi of the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project in San Diego and Imperial counties. “To shed light on this critical issue of pressing public concern, 50 ACLU affiliates are using the Freedom of Information Act to expose Customs and Border Protection’s abuse of power.”