Defiant in the face of an international backlash, President Donald Trump pressed into his second week in office defending his sweeping immigration ban as protests persisted in North Texas and nationwide, and concern mounted from U.S. diplomats and members of his own party.
In one of the more dramatic moves, acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, ordered the Justice Department on Monday not to defend Trump’s executive order on immigration in court, declaring in a memo she is not convinced the order is lawful.
Trump’s response: He fired her.
Trump replaced her Monday night with Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente told The Washington Post that he will agree to enforce the immigration order.
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In a press release, the White House said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”
Yates had written that, as the leader of the Justice Department, she must ensure the department’s position is both “legally defensible” and “consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.”
Yates’ move to resist was largely symbolic anyway because Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is likely to be confirmed soon, but it highlighted the deep divide at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government over Trump’s order.
Trump earlier Monday night took to Twitter to respond to Yates and Democrats in general, saying, “They have nothing going but to obstruct.”
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, who has been active in protests at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport against Trump’s order, hailed Yates’ announcement as “very significant.”
On another front, the White House warned State Department officials that they should leave their jobs if they did not agree with Trump’s agenda, a bold step intended to stamp out a wave of internal dissent against Trump’s temporary ban on entry visas for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Obama speaks out
Trump’s order has sparked protests from coast to coast, court cases challenging its constitutionality, unease in cities worldwide and a host of questions about the limits of its scope. Former President Barack Obama became the latest high-profile voice to weigh in on the issue, offering his first public criticism of his successor while backing protesters.
“The president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” Obama’s spokesman, Kevin Lewis, said.
The ban’s impact continued to reverberate around the world. The United Nations said that some 20,000 refugees could be affected by the 120-day suspension of refugee admission. Lawyers sought to confirm how many people remain detained in the United States, while a lawsuit argued that dozens of people may have been forced to give up their green cards by Customs and Border Protection agents.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the situation at airports remains “chaotic and fluid.” Lawyers are “having trouble independently verifying anything because the government will not provide full access to all the detainees,” he said.
Gelernt said that by Monday afternoon, no list of detainees had been turned over, adding that the ACLU could be back in court within a day to get the list so it could obtain more definitive information.
In another new twist, The Associated Press obtained a document suggesting Trump is considering an executive order that would target some immigrants for deportation if they become dependent on government assistance.
In what could be the first volley in an intense legal battle between state and federal governments, Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s attorney general, said he plans to file a federal lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to the order’s implementation.
Ferguson is the first state official to declare plans to file such a suit, but he may not be the last. A day earlier, Ferguson joined 15 other state attorneys general in calling the measure unconstitutional. Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who joined in that message, is reviewing possible options, “and that could certainly include litigation,” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman, said Monday.
Five different federal courts have already weighed in, each targeting part of the order. On Monday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations challenged the entire order in federal court in Northern Virginia. Though filed on behalf of named individuals, including Sacramento, Calif., resident Basim Elkarra, the 35-page CAIR lawsuit casts a wider net.
So far, the courts have uniformly ruled against the executive order, which Trump signed last Friday. The rulings, in Brooklyn, Boston, Seattle, Northern Virginia and Los Angeles, have focused primarily on stopping deportations of those who reached the United States after the Trump’s order took effect.
In each case, the judges concluded that the individuals faced imminent risk of harm by government action, and were likely to succeed in ultimately proving that their deportation under Trump’s order would violate the law, the Constitution or both.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which contains material from the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Star-Telegram Washington Bureau.