A furious U.S. federal judge threatened Thursday to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt after learning at the hearing for two asylum seekers, a mother and daughter, that they were being deported and were on a plane to El Salvador.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan called the government’s action outrageous. He said the government appeared to have “spirited away” the woman and her child as they were fighting deportation.
“Turn that plane around,” the judge ordered the government, while repeatedly saying he was “extremely upset” with the development.
“I’m not happy about this at all,” Sullivan said. “This is not acceptable.”
The woman, identified in court papers as “Carmen,” is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union against Sessions, over his recent decision to stop granting asylum to people who have faced domestic and gang violence.
The ACLU and the government had come to an agreement that none of the people in the case would be deported before the end of Thursday.
Jennifer Chang Newell, the lead ACLU attorney, learned during the hearing that the mother and daughter had been deported from a detention center in Texas and informed the court.
A Homeland Security official said late Thursday the mother and daughter were “promptly returned” to Texas from El Salvador.
The woman had fled to the U.S. to escape a sexually abusive husband and death threats from gang members.
After the hearing, Judge Sullivan issued an emergency order halting the deportation of any of the immigrants as he considers whether he has broader authority in the case.