Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials ordered agency personnel at airports not to engage with journalists, lawyers or even members of Congress as President Donald Trump’s first travel ban executive order took effect.
The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that, amid the chaos following the January 27 executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, CBP officials instructed employees not to respond to questions from reporters or lawmakers and to treat phone calls from attorneys as “a form of telephonic protest”.
“As stated on the call earlier today, you and your staff are NOT to engage with the media or Congressional representatives at this time,” Todd Owen, the executive assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, wrote in an email to agency employees.
“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.” the email continued.
The Daily Beast and the pro-transparency organization the James Madison Project obtained such emails through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Another email from a CBP official whose name was reportedly redacted instructed agency employees not to answer questions from people claiming to be lawyers and to disregard such phone calls as acts of protest.
“Please be aware that various locations around the country have begun receiving a high volume of calls from various individuals and others claiming to be attorneys regarding the recent Executive Order (EO),” the official wrote.
“The callers appear to be reading from a script and they begin by identifying themselves, state they are calling regarding the EO and proceed to ask if we are following the law, the EO and ask how many people we are currently detaining. This is most likely a form of telephonic protest to the EO,” he noted.
Trump’s initial January 27 travel ban sparked protests at airports across the country, with critics calling it a de facto ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
A panel of federal judges blocked parts of the executive order in February, prompting Trump to issue a narrower travel ban barring travel from only six predominantly Muslim countries. Federal judges blocked key parts of that directive in March.
The Supreme Court agreed in June to take up the travel ban case and allowed the Trump administration to begin enforcing parts of the order.