President Trump’s original travel ban was disastrously implemented, the Homeland Security inspector general said in a new memo to Congress on Monday that concluded department employees illegally tried to prevent some people from the affected countries from even getting on planes to reach the U.S., despite court orders to the contrary.
Inspector General John Roth released the findings in letters to Democratic members of Congress, in which he also accused the Trump administration of trying to use legal tactics to try to hide the illegal behavior from the public.
“It would deprive Congress and the public of significant insights into the operation of the department,” Mr. Roth wrote.
He concluded that leadership was lacking when Mr. Trump issued his original Jan. 27 travel ban, halting all travel, including immigration and visitors, from seven majority-Muslim countries that had been identified by Congress and the Obama administration. Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that screens arrivals, was left without guidance on the many questions surrounding the order, Mr. Roth said.
CBP also defied two court orders in trying to prevent passengers from getting on planes at overseas airports, issuing “no board” instructions to airlines even after courts had halted the travel ban policy, the report concludes.
For passengers who reached the U.S., though, Mr. Roth said they were actually treated well by CBP officers — contradicting some of the more overheated reports from immigrant-rights activists at the time.
Mr. Roth said they couldn’t substantiate reports of passengers being abused or children being handcuffed.
“In fact, we found evidence that many CBPOs went the extra mile and provided water and food from their own personal funds,” he said.
The administration also made wide use of waivers, letting most passengers who reached the U.S. in despite the directions of the executive order, Mr. Roth concluded. That suggests that Mr. Trump’s executive order was more bark than bite when it was actually being carried out.
The original order was blocked by a number of courts, and Mr. Trump responded with a revised order in March. That second version was also blocked by lower courts, but the Supreme Court partially overruled them in June, allowing some of the ban to take effect.
Mr. Trump then updated the policy this fall, and that third version is going through court scrutiny yet again.
Mr. Roth’s new memo looks at the early days after the original policy was put in place on Jan. 27, until it was fully halted by a judge in Seattle on Feb. 3.
The inspector general said he submitted his findings to the Homeland Security Department Oct. 6, but the department is still deciding whether it will classify any of the report as secret, for various reasons.
Democrats who released Mr. Roth’s memo Monday said hiding the findings is “frankly unacceptable.”
“The rule of law and our constitutional protections mean little if law enforcement is empowered by the president to disregard them,” said Sens. Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats. “If the Trump Administration decides to bury an inspector general report suggesting that’s what happened, there will be repercussions in Congress.”
Tyler Houlton, spokesman for Homeland Security, didn’t respond directly to Mr. Roth’s findings of illegal behavior, but insisted officers “conducted themselves professionally, and in a legal manner.”
He also defended the attempt to shield the report’s contents, saying that the ability to claim those privileges is “well-recognized law.”