Houston News & Search
Updated 7:21 pm, Wednesday, April 12, 2017
The ACLU Foundation of Texas on Wednesday sued two federal agencies in an open-ended inquiry seeking details about how customs officers at Bush Intercontinental Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport carried out President Donald Trump‘s temporary travel ban.
The Houston complaint is one 13 Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, lawsuits filed nationwide–from Seattle to Miami–against the departments of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. The actions are aimed at shedding light on travelers who were detained, subjected to rigorous questioning or enforcement examinations as a result of. the ban against Texas-bound travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations in late January.
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On Feb. 2, ACLU officials said, the organization directly requested information about travelers who passed through 55 airports, during the 30-day waiting period, but they received no formal response. Now the civil rights advocacy group is asking federal judges to force the executive branch’s hand and demand they provide answers.
Photo: Evan Vucci, AP
“We know there was a lot of constitutionally suspect behavior,” said Edgar Saldivar, lead attorney for the lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas. “We want to try to get behind the scenes and figure out what happened, how the travel ban was implemented, how cbp interpreted it, how many people who were detained, how many were asked to sign voluntary departures.”
“The FOIA allows us the right to look behind the veil of the federal agencies and examine what went on,” he said.
A local official with DHS said personnel at the agency’s headquarters would not be available to comment on the lawsuits Wednesday evening.
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The court filing does not specify how many passengers at IAH were subjected to different treatment in the wake of Trump’s ban, but Saldivar said he was on the ground at IAH the weekend before the ban was halted by federal judges. He estimated it was probably dozens, including many green card and immigrant visa holders. The lawsuit estimates at least 50 travelers were held up at IAH as a result of the Executive Order.
The Texas lawsuit alleges that 13 people at DFW were detained and released. However, customs officials proceeded to detain other travelers from the countries under the ban for many hours, including a 33-year-old Iraqi man in a wheelchair detained for 15 hours despite his Special Immigrant Visa awarded as a result of his work with U.S. Army in Iraq. Also detained, according to court documents, were a family with two toddlers and a father who was an interpreter for the U.S. army and another family with a child under 5.
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 of the 13 lawsuits 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.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report
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