Seeking Details on Travel Ban, Civil Liberties Groups Sue US Government

Air traveller sits outside a closed airport gate at LaGuardia Airport in New York, US, March 14, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Air traveller sits outside a closed airport gate at LaGuardia Airport in New York, US, March 14, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Boston: Civil liberties groups on Wednesday said they were filing a series of lawsuits against the US government seeking details on how federal agencies enforced President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The lawsuits were filed by local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union against US Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security and cover their operations in 14 cities stretching from Portland, Maine, to San Diego.

The suits are an attempt to enforce requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) just days after Trump signed his first executive order limiting travel.

That January 27 order, intended to fulfil a campaign promise to take a tough stance on immigration, first temporarily barred travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order, which also temporarily barred refugees, led to a weekend of chaos at US airports with travellers barred from entering the country upon landing while thousands of people turned out to protest the measures.

A federal judge ordered a halt to enforcement of that ban and Trump followed up in March with a less-sweeping order that did not limit travellers from Iraq, but which has also been challenged in courts. Opponents said the orders violated the US constitution’s prohibitions on religious discrimination, citing Trump’s campaign promises to impose a “Muslim ban.”

The Trump administration said the restrictions are legal and are necessary to protect US national security.

The suits, filed in federal courts, seek disclosure of how many people have been detained or subjected to additional screening since the first executive order as well as the guidance that was provided to DHS staff about how to enforce the order.

“Customs and Border Protection has a long, rich history of ignoring its obligations under the FOIA and so these lawsuits are an effort to enforce its obligations,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine, in a phone interview. He noted that the ACLU filed its FOIA requests for information on February 2.

Officials at CBP and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suits.

In addition to Portland and San Diego, the suits cover CBP operations in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson, Miami and Tampa. One suit filed in Florida covers the two cities in that state.