Customs and Border Protection agents at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) are still trying to deport travelers from blacklisted Muslim-majority countries, despite a federal court order halting the practice, according to immigration lawyers. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California has filed a lawsuit in response.
The order halting deportations was issued in a Brooklyn federal court as a result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi — both Iraqis with valid visas to enter the U.S. detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. The ruling extends to about 200 others stranded in airports across the country and will remain in place until Feb. 21.
Melissa Keaney, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said that, as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time, about a dozen people were being held at Los Angeles International Airport.
One of the detainees is Khanon Mahindokht Azada, a 78-year-old woman from Iran, Keaney said, who travels to the U.S. annually to visit her 10 children, nine of whom are citizens and one who is a lawful, permanent resident. Azada travels on an approved visitor’s visa and has been detained since noon local time on Saturday. She also suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, according to Keaney.
Gishh Alsaeedi, an 82-year-old Iraqi citizen is also reportedly being detained at LAX. Alsaeedi lives in Baghdad, Iraq, and traveled to the United States via Dubai to visit her daughter, whom she had not seen in 19 years, according to Keaney, and her six grandchildren, whom she has never met.
Alsaeedi is traveling on a tourist visa with her Iraqi passport and arrived at LAX on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. local time, according to Keaney. A friend she was traveling with, because she was nervous to travel alone, is a U.S. citizen and was not detained. Alsaeedi, however, was detained upon entry into the U.S. and remains so. She suffers from high blood pressure and vision loss and has not been allowed to call her family, according to Keaney.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California filed a petition Sunday on behalf of two detainees in LAX, both lawful, permanent residents from Iran. The organization is now working to add names to the list of plaintiffs. Alsaeedi and Azada are not currently listed as plaintiffs in the case.
Gihan Thomas, also an immigration lawyer with her own firm in Los Angeles, also said that LAX airport officials “have been tough.” “They don’t want to comply with the federal judge’s orders, they want to keep on implementing the executive order,” she added.
Keaney is also hearing reports of detainees across the country being pressured by Customs and Border Patrol agents to withdraw their applications for entry into the U.S., which would effectively lead to a voluntary deportation. That would mean any agents trying to deport detainees wouldn’t technically be violating the federal order. “They are being held in a coercive environment,” Keaney said. “In these awful conditions.”
The federal order halting deportations entitles detainees to see an attorney, but some reports indicate that border agents are also defying that provision. Keaney said that lawyers were being denied access to the detainees at LAX, despite having signed a G-28 form establishing their attorney-client relationship.
Similarly, Damon Silvers, policy director and special counsel at The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, tweeted that lawyers seeking to meet with their clients were told “it’s not going to happen” by customs officials at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. and are now seeking to file a contempt order.
President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed Friday, threw the U.S. immigration system into chaos. The order suspended refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days, with Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also bars travelers from six other Muslim-majority countries for 90 days, including those with visas, green cards, or legal residential status.