Immigration Hard-Liners Decry ‘Showboating’ Judge in ACLU Case

Think tank director says it is 'not unheard of' for federal bureaucrats to make mistakes in high-visibility cases

Image Credit: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

America’s immigration bureaucracy, apparently accidentally, sent a Salvadoran woman and her daughter back home despite Department of Justice (DOJ) assurances she could remain in the U.S. while a judge considered her asylum claim.

That judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, went ballistic and threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt if the government did not bring the Salvadorans back, which it did.

In the mainstream media, it became a two-day story.

The episode left advocates of tighter immigration enforcement wondering what is the big deal.

“This is not an unheard-of thing,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). “[The federal government is] a giant organization. They have to match up what’s going on in the court with what’s going on at the detention center.”

From time to time, the government makes mistakes, Krikorian told LifeZette.

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He said something similar happened in a case handled by Andrew “Art” Arthur, a law fellow at the think tank, when he was a prosecutor.

Krikorian noted that the Salvadoran woman, known as “Carmen” in court papers, never got off the plane in El Salvador and returned to the United States.

“They found out about it and undid it,” he said. “The only thing that was notable in this case was [that] this judge was showboating.”

Sullivan, appointed to the bench by then-President Bill Clinton, became angry when he learned during a hearing Thursday that Carmen was en route flying to El Salvador. She is a plaintiff in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed, challenging a decision by Jeff Sessions to narrow the grounds of asylum.

The attorney general earlier decreed that domestic violence and fear of gang violence no longer will be considered valid reasons for giving asylum.

Krikorian said threatening Sessions is odd because his agency is not even the one that sent the woman out of the United States. It was Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that carried that out, employees of the Department of Homeland Security.

Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said there is no indication that Sessions defied the judge’s instructions or ordered the woman and her child to be sent out of the country.

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“I think this is just an activist judge who was engaged in bluster,” said O’Brien, a former assistant chief counsel with ICE.

Lawyer and CNN contributor Paul Reyes, however, said on the network the situation was not a mere mistake.

“In my mind, it does speak to a larger problem with this administration in two ways … There is a great deal, a great lack of transparency and oversight in our immigration system,” he said.

“So, you know, maybe these type of things do happen. You know, maybe these so-called screw-ups do occur. But the fact is, most of them we never even hear about because of the way our immigration system is set up. The fact that they happen here and there does not make them OK.”

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