Lawsuit: Dozens of immigrants trying to enter the US coerced into giving up visas and green cards after Trump travel ban



As many as 60 foreign nationals were deported last weekend as part of President Donald Trump's new immigration order after being coerced into giving up their visas or green cards upon arriving in the US, a new lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit was filed in a Virginia court Sunday on behalf of two Yemeni brothers with valid visas — Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz — and "others similarly situated." According to the lawsuit, the individuals were detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at Washington's Dulles airport and "forced to sign papers that they neither read nor understood."

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The agents "lied to immigrants arriving after the Executive Order was signed, falsely telling them that if they did not sign a relinquishment of their legal rights, they would be formally ordered removed from the United States, which would bring legal consequences including a five-year bar for reentry to the United States," the lawsuit claims. Their legal immigrant status was subsequently "revoked without due process of law," according to the lawsuit.

Trump on Friday signed an executive order barring citizens from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days while the federal government revisits its screening processes. The order also suspended the US's refugee-admitting program for 120 days, indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from resettling in the US, and gave priority status to minorities fleeing religious persecution.

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Protests erupt throughout US cities over Trump immigration ban
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Protests erupt throughout US cities over Trump immigration ban
Demonstrators gather in Copley Square for the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
An international traveler smiles as she walks past the protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
Demonstrators yell slogans during protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ted Soqui
Sarah Ijaz joins the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
BOSTON - JANUARY 29: People hold signs as they march from Copley Square to the Mass. State House in Boston on Jan. 29, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Muslim women pray during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
People gather to pray in baggage claim during a protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
Eight year-old Esma, an Irish-Moroccan-American, prays with other Muslim women during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Demonstrators spell out "# No Muslim Ban" during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Izzy Berdan (R) joins the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Muslim women pray during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Muslim women pray during the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Demonstrators gather in Copley Square for the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
An activist holds a sign outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Samah Mansur, from Egypt, takes part in the "Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders" to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
People gather to protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
BOSTON - JANUARY 29: People hold signs as they gather in Copley Square in Boston on Jan. 29, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - JANUARY 29: People gather in Copley Square in Boston on Jan. 29, 2017, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order banning people from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 29: Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., speaks with an ACLU legal observer during the protest at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Protests erupted at airports around the country following President Trump's executive order restricting travel from several Islamic countries. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 29: A protester holds up a sign that reads, 'Banning Immigrants is UnAmerican!,' as she stands with others at the Miami International Airport against the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 29, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Demonstrators gathered at airports across the country in protest of the order. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 29: Protesters stand together at the Miami International Airport against the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 29, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Demonstrators gathered at airports across the country in protest of the order. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 29: Susan Barimo joins with other protesters as they stand together at the Miami International Airport against the executive order that President Donald Trump signed clamping down on refugee admissions and temporarily restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 29, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Demonstrators gathered at airports across the country in protest of the order. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
People gather outside Terminal 4 during a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
International travelers walk past protestors holding signs as they protest against the travel ban imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Laura Buckman
Protesters at Discovery Green Park during Super Bowl events in Houston, Texas, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Trish Badger
Dozens of pro-immigration demonstrators cheer and hold sign as international passengers arrive at Dulles International Airport, to protest President Donald Trump's executive order baring visitors, refugees and immigrants from certain countries to the United States, in Chantilly, Virginia, in suburban Washington, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
Activists march to the US Capitol to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Activists march to the US Capitol to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Activists gather at the US Capitol to protest President Donald Trump's executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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The visa terminations began in the days leading up to the official ban, the Intercept reported on Sunday, and several visa-holders were charged with violating immigration law even though they had not been informed prior to boarding their flights that their visas were no longer valid.

The Virginia lawsuit claims that as many as 60 permanent US residents, referred to as "John Does" in the suit, were "compelled into signing I-407 forms against their will and without their knowledge or consent" upon landing at Dulles airport on January 27 and 28. The forms, if signed, mean the signatory has "voluntarily" abandoned their status as a "lawful permanent resident of the United States," according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The purported coercion was not isolated to Dulles. Two Iranians with green cards on separate flights from Germany and Qatar to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last weekend were also prompted to sign I-407 forms, an immigration attorney who advised them told Business Insider this week.

The passengers said they contacted their family members for advice after being handed forms to sign that said "I-407," according to their attorney. Their families, waiting for them at the airport, were then able to consult with a triage of immigration attorneys on the ground at LAX at the time.

"This was highly, highly unusual," one of the attorneys, Ally Bolour, told Business Insider. "These forms are supposed to be signed in front of a federal officer, not under duress. I've never seen anything like that before, and I've been doing this for 20 years."

Reached for comment, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security directed Business Insider to the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the DHS website. They refused to comment on the lawsuit's claims specifically.

A confusing rollout

The forms were handed out as the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) scrambled to implement the executive order signed by Trump last Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security initially interpreted it to mean that green-card holders from the designated countries would still be allowed to enter the US, CNN has reported. Green-card holders have to undergo a lengthy vetting process by the DHS before they are granted permanent US residency.

But the White House had overruled that decision by Saturday morning, according to CNN, and green-card holders were detained at airports across the country. Those with valid visas were detained, too — some for as long as 18 hours.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday that only 109 people were detained or inconvenienced by the immigration order on Saturday. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly updated that figure on Tuesday when pressed about reports that the number had been much higher.

The CBP's acting commissioner, Kevin McAleenan, told reporters on Tuesday that the 109 figure referred to the ban's "initial hours" and that "721 travelers from the affected countries" who had visas to enter the US were denied boarding at their countries of origin.

One Iraqi man had his visa revoked before he could travel to Boston to visit his young son, who was flown there late last year for medical treatment after being severely burned at an Iraqi refugee camp.

Several other people were deported shortly after they landed in the US, including the two Yemeni brothers who were sent back to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after relinquishing their green cards under duress.

"Asylum law requires CBP officers to affirmatively ask if an applicant fears return when placing them into expedited removal," an immigration official told the Intercept. "By pressuring them to simply get on a plane without going into formal removal proceedings, they are violating our obligations under the refugee convention. We are violating international law."

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