Maine ACLU joins lawsuit to gain Trump Muslim ban documents

Posted April 12, 2017, at 12:46 p.m.
Last modified April 12, 2017, at 3:24 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has joined a lawsuit that demands government documents that would describe what President Donald Trump’s administration is doing in relation to banning residents of certain Muslim countries from traveling to the United States.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine by the ACLU’s Maine chapter along with affiliates from five other New England states, seeks records from local offices of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about activities at Bangor International Airport, as well as Bradley, Burlington, Logan, Manchester and T.F. Green international airports.

Portland International Jetport was not included in the records requests because it was not a destination for international flights at the time those requests were filed.

According to a news release, the ACLU has already requested the information under the federal Freedom of Information Act but has not received adequate responses. The suit demands fulfillment of 13 FOIA requests across the country that were filed in early February, just days after Trump issued his first travel ban executive order on Jan. 27.

“This action is necessary because defendants have failed to provide plaintiffs with a determination as to whether they will comply with the request, although more than 20 business days have elapsed since defendants received the request,” reads the complaint, which later states that Customs and Border Protection has not acknowledged receipt of the ACLU’s requests. Federal FOIA law requires a response to requests within 20 business days.

Trump’s first travel ban in January was blocked in U.S. District Court in February. On March 6, Trump’s administration issued a second, revised executive order that barred foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. Portions of that order were subsequently blocked in U.S. District Court, though Trump has vowed to fight on behalf of his orders all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Among other things, the request seeks records that outline airports’ interpretation of Trump’s executive order, specific implementation measures, correspondence between the airports and the federal government, and records concerning any individuals who have been detained or delayed.

The lawsuit calls on the court to declare that the federal government has violated FOIA laws, order them to disclose the requested records without any fee and to cover the ACLU’s costs for attorneys.

“The United States was founded on religious freedom and our Constitution requires it,” said Zachary Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director, in a written statement. “These orders are an attack on our most fundamental values and the American people deserve to know how they are being carried out.”

Heiden said Wednesday afternoon that federal transparency laws require courts to expedite complaints regarding unfulfilled FOIA requests. He said the U.S. Department of Justice will have an opportunity to file a written response to the suit and the next step would be a conference between the parties to potentially schedule a hearing.

However, he said that could all be avoided if Customs and Border Patrol fulfills the ACLU’s request, though the agency could still be on the hook for legal fees.

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