Immigration officials have returned a mother and daughter to the United States after they were deported, which had angered a federal judge who was hearing their lawsuit.
Sullivan also ordered that if the two being deported were not returned, Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna and Executive Office for Immigration Review Director James McHenry would have to appear in court and say why they should not be held in contempt.
But during a court recess, ACLU lawyers found out that the woman and her daughter had already been moved from the South Texas Family Residential Center - the nation's largest detention facility for illegal immigrants and other potential deportees.
The ACLU said its client, identified only as Carmen, was raped by her husband for two decades and faced death threats from a violent gang.
The group excoriated the administration for the new policy. The American Civil Liberties Union claimed that "Carmen" had been put on a plane and sent home, meaning that she was deported in the midst of a court hearing to appeal her deportation orders.
"The whole point of this was to get a ruling from the court before they could be placed in danger", ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell said.
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"Upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs did not disembark and are now en route back to the United States", the department said in an emailed statement.
The fast-track removal system, created in 1996, has asylum-seekers interviewed to determine if they have a "credible fear" of returning to their home countries, the paper said, adding that those who pass get a full hearing in immigration court.
"Despite asylum officers finding that their accounts were truthful, they. ultimately denied them asylum protection because they did not have a 'credible fear of persecution'". Sessions argued that a lack of policing in a given country "cannot establish as asylum claim". In the suit, Grace said her partner of 22 years, and his two gang member sons from another relationship, repeatedly beat and threatened to kill her and her children.
The ACLU represents 12 people in the suit, including three children, from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, who had entered the US and sought asylum, but were been denied in a preliminary interview used to establish a "credible fear" of returning home. None of the adults had been separated from their children as part of President Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy.
Asylum seekers previously had to show that the government in their native country was "unable or unwilling" to protect them.