June 3, 2015 / 8:25 PM / 2 years ago

Group sues to compel U.S. to evacuate Americans from Yemen

DETROIT (Reuters) - Lawyers representing a group of Yemeni Americans on Wednesday sought to have a federal judge force the government to order emergency evacuations of 37 American citizens stranded in Yemen since a deadly conflict broke out in March.

The U.S. government is needlessly putting citizens in imminent danger by not moving to get them out, lawyers for the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told Judge Sean Cox in Detroit. The group is the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in the United States.

The government wants the case dismissed, saying the court does not have the authority to order an evacuation.

On Wednesday, Vesper Mei, an attorney for the Department of Justice, said it was not feasible to order a formal evacuation of U.S. citizens because of instability in Yemen.

About 2,000 people have died the country since March, when an Arab alliance began bombing the dominant Houthi militia in a bid to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.

The United States closed its embassy in Sana‘a in February when the rebel group seized control of the Yemeni capital. It has asked citizens for months to leave the country, warning that evacuations options were severely limited. Yemen is also on the front lines of Washington’s war against al Qaeda.

China, India, Turkey and other countries evacuated citizens from Yemen in April.

Cox told attorneys he would try to rule quickly on the government request to dismiss the case.

Lena Masri, a CAIR staff attorney, said that could come as early as next week. “The judge has given some indication in the way that he’s handled the case so far that he is taking this case very seriously,” Masri said.

Included in the lawsuit are 37 Yemeni Americans, including 23 children, all from southeast Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Yemeni Americans in the United States. 

Yemeni American families typically take extended trips to their native country to visit relatives who are unable to join them in the United States, Masri said.

A majority of those in the complaint had been stuck in Yemen for months before the March conflict as they got paperwork in order, she said.

Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Doina Chiacu

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