A Washington federal judge halted the deportation of a mother and daughter Thursday -- but threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court after removal proceedings began amid their appeal, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
The woman, referred to as "Carmen," and her daughter were part of a group of immigrants who had fled "extreme sexual and gang violence" in Central America, according to the ACLU. Specifically, it said Carmen had suffered "two decades of horrific sexual abuse by her husband and death threats from a violent gang."
The rights group and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed a lawsuit on the group's behalf Tuesday to challenge the deportation, which prompted a hearing held Thursday.
The ACLU said the judge blocked the deportation while the case was pending. But, "while in court, we found out that the government had deported a client and her young child just hours before, putting their lives at risk," the group said in a series of tweets.
"This directly contradicts the government's commitment to the court that NO ONE would be removed until tomorrow at the earliest."
The organization added that the judge ordered the government to "turn the plane around" or face potential contempt proceedings, "starting with the attorney general."
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, quoted by the Washington Post, branded the situation "outrageous."
"That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?" he said.
"I'm not happy about this at all."
A Department of Homeland Security official told NBC that the flight to El Salvador was unable to turn around, but Carmen and her daughter did not leave the plane and will be brought back to the US.
The pair had sought asylum in the US in June 2018, but were denied because although officials believed their accounts, they did not think they had a "credible fear of persecution."
The decision came after Attorney General Sessions implemented a new policy stating that allegations of domestic or gang violence are no longer sufficient to warrant asylum protection.