"Turn the plane around", U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivansaid in court, telling Justice Department lawyers, "This is not acceptable", according to the Washington Post. "That someone seeking justice in United States court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?"
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sullivan's order meant the taxpayer wound up paying for a needless round-trip flight.
Carmen is a pseudonym for the woman who, along with her daughter, was seeking asylum because of domestic abuse in El Salvador.
But the ACLU said they had learned during Thursday's emergency hearing that the mother and daughter had already been put on a flight back to El Salvador by U.S. authorities.
The government said it is racing to comply with the court's order.
"In its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, the Trump administration is putting these women and children in grave danger of being raped, beaten, or killed", Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney of ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project who argued the case in court said in a statement. The deported mother and daughter were en route back to the USA later Thursday.
During a brief recess, she told her colleagues the pair had been taken from a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, to the airport in San Antonio for a morning flight.
The lawsuit brought by the ACLU is challenging a recent decision by Sessions to make it almost impossible for victims of domestic violence and gangs to qualify for asylum in the US. Carmen also alleged her husband was abusive.
She sought police protection in 2016, but they did not protect her and Grace fled Guatemala, because she felt she wouldn't be safe in the country because of her partner and his sons' gang affiliation, according to the suit. It argues the administration is wrongly rejecting asylum claims based on domestic abuse and gang violence.
A "credible fear" interview is a threshold screening that determines whether there is a "significant possibility" that an immigrant could show they are eligible for asylum in a full hearing with evidence, witnesses, and appeals.
None of the adults had been separated from their children as part of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy.