Two Muslim men fleeing Yemen to live in the U.S. were coerced into signing away their visas by Customs and Border Protection officers acting on President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, according to a new lawsuit amended Monday.
Brothers Tareq and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz of Yemen flew into Washington-Dulles International Airport on Saturday morning on visas issued for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. They came to be with their father who lives in in Flint, Michigan. When they arrived, the brothers were handcuffed and “forced to sign papers they neither read nor understood” that relinquished their visa status, the lawsuit claims.
Agents then allegedly stamped “Cancelled” on the brothers’ visas, confiscated documents needed for green cards, and sent them back to Ethiopia—on their own dime.
The Aziz brothers remain at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on Monday and could not be reached. Their father, father, Aqel Mohammed Aziz, who was waiting for his sons to arrive in Flint, where they planned to live, could not be reached for comment.
“Everybody who’s been affected by this is incredibly fearful to speak out and is concerned with their immigration status going forward,” said Paul Hughes, one of the brothers’ attorneys.
The brothers signed the I-470 forms, known as a Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status, because officers allegedly told them refusal to do so would make them “ineligible for entry to the United States for a period of at least five years,” the lawsuit claims. Lawyers for the brothers contend this was a misrepresentation by CBP agents who were simply lying to get the brothers to sign away their rights. No copies of the forms were allegedly given to the brothers.
What’s more, the lawsuit claims other “similarly-situated individuals who did not sign I-407 were ultimately admitted into the United States—thus demonstrating the falsity of the representations of respondents’ agents.”
The lawsuit also claims that as many of the 60 more people stopped at Dulles were “unlawfully compelled to ‘voluntarily’ renounce their U.S. immigration status.” While lawyers for the two brothers do not have specific cases in which travelers signed away their visas, they expect more lawsuits with similar allegations to be filed in the coming days and weeks.
The lawsuit names respondents as Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and their respective chiefs, John Kelly and Wayne Biondi. Eight unnamed CBP agents at Dulles are also named. CBP did not respond to a request for comment, and the government has yet to respond to Monday’s filing in court.
Among the laws the government was said to have violated is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because Trump’s order “places a substantial burden on petitioners’ exercise of religion in a way that is not the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”
While the lawsuit is the first time these allegations have been made in court, attorneys across the country have expressed fears that travelers were being convinced to sign away their visas.
“There are a number of anecdotal reports from advocates and allies at airports across the country over the weekend that CBP has tried to get people to sign this paperwork,” said Zachary Manfredi of Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic.
Manfredi was one of several lawyers whose work resulted in a Brooklyn judge’s decision to issue a temporary national stay on Trump’s order on Saturday night. That same order also demands a list of the detained to be released.