On the chaotic day the Trump administration’s travel ban went into effect, high-level Homeland Security officials directed their staff at airports around the country to stiff-arm members of Congress and treat lawyers with deep suspicion.
Members of Congress say they’re shocked by the orders, uncovered in documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from The Daily Beast and The James Madison Project, both of which were represented by the law office of Mark S. Zaid.
“I’m extremely troubled that CBP [Customs and Border Protection] employees would be instructed by superiors to ignore Congressional representatives trying to do their job, especially under such circumstances,” said Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat. “We suspected as much at the time, but it’s jarring to see it in black and white. I’ll be seeking more information from CBP on this matter.”
A CBP official wrote in an email on Jan. 28 that the agency’s employees were forbidden from speaking to members of Congress.
“As stated on the call earlier today, you and your staff are NOT to engage with the media or Congressional representatives at this time,” emailed Todd Owen, the executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, at 7:49 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28. “Please make sure your subordinate Port Directors are following this direction. Please report any such requests to acting AC[REDACTED] from Congressional Affairs. Thank you.”
Owen sent that email about twenty hours after the travel ban went into effect. The ban— which blocked people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.—had already thrown airports around the country into chaos. Protesters flooded into airports by the thousands, waving signs and singing patriotic songs. Lawyers hauled laptops and printers into international baggage claim areas, trying to keep detained travelers from being deported or from accidentally signing away their green cards. And members of Congress held impromptu press conferences and demanded CBP officials tell them how many people were detained.
CBP wouldn’t tell them.