Homeland Security Faces Legal Blitz for Travel-Ban Records

Updated on
  • Group seeks records on order’s implementation in 13 lawsuits
  • Trump directive challenged as discriminating against Muslims

The Department of Homeland Security was hit with a barrage of lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union demanding to see records on how officials at the agency’s field offices interpreted President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban against certain Muslim majority countries.

The 13 lawsuits, filed from Georgia to Oregon this week, may shed light on how the ban sowed chaos at U.S. airports and aid the ACLU in a separate case it filed to block the travel ban, the organization said Wednesday in a statement. The litigation became necessary after the federal agency didn’t respond to a Feb. 2 Freedom of Information Act request, the group said.

Trump’s original executive order, signed Jan. 27, barred new visas for travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim majority countries for 90 days, though it was put on hold by federal judges. A March 6 revision that dropped Iraq from the list and addressed various legal concerns has also been blocked by the courts.

"The public has a right to know how federal immigration officials have handled the implementation of the Muslim bans, especially after multiple federal courts have blocked various aspects of these executive orders,” Mitra Ebadolahi, a staff attorney with the ACLU in California, said in the statement.

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security, said the agency’s policy prohibits comments on pending litigation.

Membership Surge

The New York-based ACLU has been deeply involved in the travel-ban fight since seeing its membership surge after the first executive order was signed. The group, which argues the ban discriminates against Muslims and violates the Constitution, helped win a national injunction against the revised travel ban in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, is set to hear Trump’s appeal on May 8.

“It is always possible that if the case ends up back in the district court, the documents could be used depending on what they reveal," Ebadolahi said.

Hawaii, backed by a coalition of Democratic-led states, also secured a court order against the travel ban in a case that’s set to be heard by the federal appeals court in San Francisco on May 15. The U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to have the final say.

The Trump administration has said the travel ban is necessary to prevent potential terrorists from slipping through the cracks, and that only countries with inadequate travel procedures are affected.

Each lawsuit seeks "unique and local information" about how U.S. Customs and Border Protection implemented the executive orders at specific airports and ports of entry amid rapidly developing and sometimes conflicting guidance from the federal government, according to the ACLU.

The lawsuits filed this week seek copies of any internal documents about the interpretation, enforcement and implementation the executive orders, as well as any records created in response to various court rulings that put the travel ban on hold.

One suit filed Wednesday in federal court in Detroit seeks communications about the travel ban as it pertained to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel from the U.S. to Canada, according to the complaint.

The 13 lawsuits seek records for Custom and Border Protection’s offices in 14 cities: San Francisco; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Baltimore; Portland, Oregon; San Diego; Seattle; Tampa, Florida; and Tucson, Arizona.

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