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ACLU targets border agents violating travel-ban court orders with FOIA requests

The nonprofit is hoping to uncover why CBP is acting in defiance of a nationwide court injunction.


Dell Cameron


Posted on Feb 2, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 2:02 am CDT

The American Civil Liberties Union announced on Thursday that it was seeking access to government records that would reveal how Trump administration officials are interpreting the president’s immigration ban.

The ACLU says it is seeking to expose how U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials have acted in violation of federal court orders implementing a temporary nationwide stay on President Donald Trump’s executive order, which forbids entry into the U.S. by legal residents and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. The ACLU and other legal groups have filed lawsuits in multiple states on behalf of travelers detained by border agents, despite having valid visas to enter the country.

Mitra Ebadolahi, an ACLU of San Diego staff attorney, said in a statement that 50 ACLU affiliates are involved in a concerted effort to obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). “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,” she said.

(The Daily Dot has also filed FOIA requests seeking access to documents related to the ban, citing a 2006 ACLU lawsuit against the Department of Defense as cause for the government to expedite the release of any responsive records.)

Under FOIA, CBP has 20 calendar days to respond to the ACLU’s request, though it can extend that deadline by 10 days if necessary. In addition, CBP has only 10 calendar days to respond to ACLU’s request for expedited processing. If any of these requirements are not met—which would not be unusual since FOIA is entirely toothless, with zero penalties imposed on agencies routinely violating the law—the ACLU will have just cause to sue the agency. 

As the ACLU noted, correctly, the White House has not yet revealed how many refugees, visa holders, and legal U.S. residents have been affected by the ban, which prohibits the travel and immigration of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Trump’s order additionally blocks refugees coming from Syria indefinitely, while entry to the U.S. has been suspended for refugees of all other countries for 120 days.

The ACLU has garnered widespread support across the U.S. since the ban was first implemented, fundraising as much as six times the amount the nonprofit normally raises in a single year.

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*First Published: Feb 2, 2017, 6:04 pm CST