WASHINGTON – Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates described parents allowing their teenage daughters as young as 14 in Mexico to travel to the U.S. to marry men they did not know as an “act of love.”
Yates, first appointed a U.S. Attorney by President Obama, was speaking in the context of a case she worked on in the Northern District of Georgia involving men who promised to marry Mexican girls as young as 14 inside the U.S. The teenagers were later sexually abused.
“As a parent myself, I can’t imagine allowing my child to go to this country with people you don’t really know, but it was truly an act of love from these parents because they so wanted for their daughters to have a better chance than what they were going to have there – and you can probably guess what happened,” she said at CARE’s National Conference in May. “When they arrived in the United States, each one of them was forced to have sex with over 20 men their very first night here and then, over the course of months that followed after that, suffered horrific physical abuse.”
Yates praised one of the girls for the bravery she displayed by escaping and reporting the men to the police, leading to arrests.
“But what I take from this case was not just the abuse they suffered but the courage they demonstrated, because one of the young women was able to escape and told the authorities about what was happening,” she said. “The men were arrested and these young women who had been so horribly abused faced their abusers and testified at trial and testified at the sentencing and they truly were survivors, not victims, after that.”
President Trump fired Yates fewer than 2 weeks into his presidency for refusing to defend the first version of his travel ban that covered certain Muslim-majority nations.
“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States,” read the White House statement on her dismal. “This order was approved as to form and legality by the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. Ms. Yates is an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”
Yates summarized her experience serving in the Trump administration in the aftermath of Trump’s executive order implementing the travel ban.
“The bottom line is this, is that it became clear to me that to defend the travel ban I was going to have to send Department of Justice lawyers in to argue that this order had absolutely nothing to do with religion, nothing at all, and that was in the face of all of the statements that the president had made both on campaign trail and after he had been elected,” Yates said.
“That meant that we would have to go and advance a pretext here and advance a pretext on something that is so fundamental to who we are as a country, to religious freedom and to the equal protection of the law, and that seemed to me directly contrary to what the Department of Justice is and what it stands for,” she added.
Yates was asked if she is optimistic about the “rule of law” in the current political climate.
“It’s a true cornerstone of our democracy, the concept that our laws apply equally to everyone and that no one is above the law and that we all are entitled to its protection. And I think we have to confess we still have a long way to go in the complete equal application of the law, but that has always been a defining characteristic of our country as to something that, at a minimum, to which we aspire, of who we are,” Yates responded.
“There certainly are forces there that are appealing, not to our better angels, not to the things that unite us, to our common principles. Look, I think it’s fine to debate policies, that’s what we are supposed to do, we’re supposed to have a good vigorous debate, but the demonization of people who have different views, not even being loosely tethered to truth when we have those debates, and scaring people, trying to scare people into believing they must hate and be fearful of others or bad things are going to happen here, that’s not what our country is founded on,” she added, alluding to Trump.
Yates continued, “We’ve certainly had moments in our history where we have slipped into some of that but that is not, I don’t believe, fundamentally who we are. And I think it’s really essential we all, in whatever way we can, continue to plant a flag recognizing that we can’t really control what our leaders do but we can control how we respond to it, and no one else in this country defines us. It’s all of us as a people, as a group, and I am optimistic. We’re going through some rough times now, but we’re better than this and we’re going to get through this.”