The official overseer for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed his office had initiated an investigation into potential civil rights violations the agency’s Customs and Border Patrol division may have committed in executing President Donald Trump’s first attempt at barring travel from majority-Muslim countries, according to a letter Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke shared with the Observer.
DHS Inspector General John Roth, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, penned the missive in response to Clarke request last month that his office probe the flailing enforcement of the president’s initial, abortive executive order. The fiat Trump signed in January denied entry to the country to any person coming from Somalia, Syria, Sudan Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen, and went into effect immediately.
As a consequence, dozens of individuals cleared to enter the country under Obama and airborne at the time the edict came down found themselves detained at major airports, provoking mass protests—and spurring federal judges to issue injunctions against the decree.
“In addition to reviewing its implementation, we will review DHS’ [sic] adherence to court orders and allegations of individual misconduct on the part of DHS personnel, including CBP agents,” Roth wrote to Clarke.
Concerning to Clarke, and other members of the Democratic conference who petitioned the inspector general, were the lack of clear guidelines for enforcement in the first order and reports that DHS did not immediately comply with the judges’ orders. In her February inquiry, she also suggested that Customs forced people approved to stay in the United States to renounce that right and return to their native land.
She also worried in her February inquiry that CBP officers may have violated detainees’ privacy by impounding and perusing through their electronic devices—and that the government may have retained the information they discovered.
Roth said his investigation would supersede any present probes by DHS and its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The Trump administration ultimately abandoned the defense of its first decree, and issued a new order earlier this month intended to avoid the problems that hamstrung the first: by honoring visas approved under the previous president, and by phasing into effect over two weeks. It also softened some of the policies of the original proscription, and excluded the struggling government of Iraq from the abeyance.
The president and DHS Secretary John Kelly have maintained that their aim is not to ban members of a particular faith, but to conduct a study of the security screening protocols of the affected countries.
Nonetheless, a Hawaii judge issued a temporary restraining order against the edict last week, asserting that Trump’s campaign trail calls for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” proved the administration intended to discriminate against followers of Islam.