(CBS News) — A federal judge Thursday and chastised Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration for attempting to remove a mother and daughter from the country in the midst of a court hearing appealing their deportation. As first reported by The Washington Post, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Emmet Sullivan threatened to hold sessions in contempt of court as he halted the deportation process.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of twelve plaintiffs, challenging Sessions’ decision to refuse asylum based on claims of domestic and gang violence. Attorneys for the ACLU and the Justice Department reached an agreement to stay one plaintiff’s deportation until after the hearing.
During a recess, ACLU attorneys learned that the plaintiff, known in court papers as Carmen, and her daughter had been removed from a detention center and were potentially on their way to the San Antonio airport, where they would be placed on a flight leaving the United States.
Sullivan halted the deportation, and then reportedly called for the Justice Department to “turn the plane around.”
“This is pretty outrageous,” Sullivan said after learning about the removal, according to the Post. “That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?”
The judge continued that he was “not happy about this at all,” and that the situation was “not acceptable.”
An administration official told CBS News that the flight left El Salvador for Houston at about 3:00 p.m. The plane was set to arrive back in Houston at about 5:30 p.m., and then the mother and daughter would be driven back to Dilley, Texas, the facility where they were being held. The official said the mother and daughter never got off the plane in El Salvador.
The administration official declined to comment on the threat to hold Sessions in contempt.
Sessions announced that fleeing domestic and gang violence would no longer be consideredin June. he spoke in Macon, Georgia, about administration efforts to combat violent crime. He discussed recidivism rates among immigrants convicted of felonies and then released.
“There are those who would rather that we go easy on cartels and gangs. They falsely claim it will save money by letting the criminals back onto our streets early,” he said. “They use innocent-sounding terms like ‘low-level, nonviolent offender’ to make people we’re dealing with mostly in our criminal justice system aren’t serious criminals. Unfortunately, that’s not true.”
Jeff Peques contributed to this report.