Virginia lawsuit claims border agents ‘bullied’ migrants at Dulles Airport

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Dulles International Airport

On Tuesday evening, Virginia attorney general Mark Herring announced the state would join the case of Aziz v. Trump et al, which claims many detained at Dulles International airport over the weekend were illegally coerced into abandoning their rights by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Legal Aid Justice Center on Monday.

On Friday night, President Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries. At airports throughout the U.S., quick implementation and challenges over the legal extent and interpretation of that order has caused confusion, detentions, and a cascade of legal actions.

The first named in the case are Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz, 21 and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, 19, brothers of Yemeni nationality, who had been granted IR2 (Immediate Relative) visas by virtue of their father, a U.S. citizen who resides in Flint, Michigan.

According to the lawsuit, on the morning of January 28, Tareq and Ammar landed in Washington-Dulles International Airport. Instead of being allowed to their connecting flight to Michigan, they were handcuffed, detained, and forced to sign papers that they neither read nor understood.

The papers in question were U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Form I-407, which is entitled “Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status.” According to the instructions:

“Use Form I-407 to let us know that you have decided voluntarily to abandon your status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. We will then update your records to show that you are no longer an LPR (Legal Permanent Resident).”

Tareq and Ammar allegedly signed the papers because agents of CBP insisted that, if they failed to do so, they would be ineligible for entry to the United States for at least five years. A statement that is not true, the lawsuit claims.

In signing these documents, the Aziz brothers would have “voluntarily” given up their legal right to enter the country.

Requests from CGTN America for comment by the CBP and Department of Homeland Security concerning the use of I-407s, and procedures by its agents at Dulles Airport were not answered.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney for the Aziz brothers, told CGTN America that “since the executive order didn’t set up a legal mechanism to deny their entry – CBP agents resorted to bullying and coercion to effect the Trump’s ban.”

The lawsuit says after the I-407’s were signed, CBP agents then stamped “Cancelled” over Tareq and Ammar’s visas. The two brothers were then placed on a return flight to Ethiopia – just two and a half hours after their landing in the U.S.

The suit also claims that during their detention, the Aziz brothers were not made aware volunteer lawyers in the public area of the airport terminal would be willing represent them.

Protesters at Dulles Airport

Protesters gather at the international arrivals area of the Washington Dulles International Airport on January 28, 2017, in Sterling, Virginia. AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS

The lawsuit claims the same thing has happened to at least 60 other “John Doe” legal residents and visa holders at Dulles airport. Because the government has not made available numbers or names of those turned away due to the ban, estimates are based on anecdotal evidence.

“We are low-balling it, if anything,” said Sandoval-Moshenberg “The government has refused to reveal how many people they detained at Dulles airport, how many actually signed the I-407, and what were the conditions by which they signed it. It seems impossible to believe they weren’t coerced.”

According to ABC News, a mother and her two children were detained at Dulles for almost 20 hours without food. The children both possessed U.S. passports and were born in Kenya — not one of the countries on Trump’s travel ban — but the mother was born in Somalia, meaning she was subject to the executive order.

Najib Abi, a family relative stated to ABC that CBP agents kept the mother in handcuffs as they tried to convince her to sign documents allowing her children to remain in the U.S., but forcing her to return to Africa.

The mother, who chose to remain unnamed, refused to sign the documents and was only released after a ruling Saturday night from New York Federal Judge Ann Donnelly. That ruling ordered a stay on Trump’s executive order, stating it could not affect those who were already in transit or had already arrived on American soil.

Sandoval-Moshenberg says that stay would have been of benefit to the Aziz brothers, as “they were already in the air, heading to the U.S. when Trump issued the ban Friday night.”

Unfortunately, Judge Donnelly’s ruling came hours after they had already boarded a return flight to Ethiopia.

Since Saturday, a growing number of judges across the country have issued similar stays limiting the executive action, and lawsuits against Trump’s travel ban have been filed in multiple states.

As of Tuesday, Tareq and Ammar were still in limbo at Addis Ababa International Airport. Having received legal counsel after leaving the United States, they are seeking to reset their legal status and eventually be reunited with their father in Michigan.

Read the full complaint:

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