U.S. President Donald Trump has fired the acting head of the Justice Department after she questioned the legality of his order to temporarily bar citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
In a January 30 statement, the White House accused Sally Yates of having "betrayed" the department "by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States."
The statement also described her as "weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration."
Earlier on January 30, Yates said she was instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend the president's executive order in court.
"I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution's solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right," she wrote in a letter.
"At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful," Yates added.
She was replaced by Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
In a statement issued after his appointment as acting attorney general, Boente directed the Justice Department to defend "the lawful orders of our president."
Yates, who was appointed by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, was expected to remain the acting chief until the Senate confirms a successor. Trump's nominee, Jeff Sessions, is considered likely to be confirmed soon.
Vowing to protect the United States from "foreign terrorists," Trump signed an executive order on January 27 halting the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days, indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, and suspending all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.
The seven countries involved in the order are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.
The move led to street protests and legal challenges in the United States as well as wide criticism abroad.
A spokesman for Obama said on January 30 the former president "fundamentally disagrees" with any policy that discriminates on the basis of religion, adding that “American values are at stake.”
He also said Obama was "heartened" by the engagement of U.S. citizens in protesting the policy.
Also on January 30, Trump replaced the acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Daniel Ragsdale, who had been in the post since January 20.
He was replaced by Thomas Homan, who has served as the executive director of the ICE's enforcement and removal operations.
In that role, Homan led the agency's efforts "to identify, arrest, detain, and remove illegal aliens, including those who present a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety," said a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.
It did not explain the reason for the change.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters