The Trump administration issued its sweeping travel ban targeting immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries on a Friday afternoon. The chaos and inhumanity that followed has been well documented.
By Saturday night, multiple courts had filed temporary restraining orders to block enforcement of the order against visa and green card holders. But, as has also been well documented, Customs and Border Protection agents continued to detain people and deny them access to legal counsel.
Here’s Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia who was at Dulles Airport with the families of those being detained, on what he saw happen on Sunday:
Attorney after attorney complained to me that CBP would not allow them access to the holding rooms where travelers may have been detained. To my knowledge, not a single attorney was permitted access to any detained traveler. My congressional colleagues and I were also denied access to detainees.
Now the Commonwealth of Virginia has filed a motion to compel the Trump administration and other government officials to show why they shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for defying the stay.
From the brief (emphasis mine):
This Court’s temporary restraining order is an injunction that is enforceable by contempt. Respondent Department of Homeland Security does not assert that it was not bound by the TRO. To the contrary, it claims that respondents “are and will remain in compliance with the judicial orders.” But that conclusory statement is refuted by the public reporting of events on the ground at Dulles on Saturday evening and Sunday, as well as by Congressman Beyer’s first-hand account.
Moreover, the Commonwealth has sought unsuccessfully to determine if respondents have respected the rights of its Virginia residents, including abiding by the injunction against removing persons from the United States after the TRO was issued and providing access to counsel for those being held.
Because respondents have failed without explanation to answer these eminently reasonable questions by members of Congress and the Attorney General of Virginia, it is appropriate for this Court to require respondents to demonstrate their compliance.
But in the end, the order may not reach all the way to Trump.
“There’s no indication that the court is going to actually hold the president in contempt,” Ben Feuer, chairman of the California Appellate Law Group and a former clerk on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, told the Huffington Post. “The people who are really at the center of this, who this is actually directed at, are the agents at Dulles airport involved in this.”
The potential issue at stake, Feuer continued, is if and how the court might handle the officers directly involved in defying the order and what might happen after that: “You could conceive of a situation where the court orders the U.S. marshals to confront these officials and arrest them, the president fires the marshals and hires new officials who will not obey the court order, and then you likely have a constitutional crisis.”
A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Friday morning.