Two Government Agencies Are Being Sued For Arresting Undocumented Spouses Of US Citizens Seeking Legal Status

credit: Spencer Platt / Getty

A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in Boston appears to have been coordinating with local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to arrest undocumented spouses of US citizens when appearing at interviews for legal status. According to a class action lawsuit against ICE and USCIS by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), documents show the agencies discussed scheduled interviews with immigrants at times that were convenient for ICE agents who would be waiting to arrest them. The ACLU criticizes these efforts as a deportation “trap” that violates the constitutional rights of immigrants otherwise following the rules to become legal citizens.

Emails show that ICE officials asked to spread out immigration interviews over time to best accommodate deportation efforts.

CREDIT: Credit: ACLU Massachusetts

The lawsuit filed Monday was part of a Massachusetts federal case involving Lilian Calderon, 30, who was taken into ICE custody in January when she and her husband went into a marriage interview so that she could begin the process of trying to become a lawful permanent resident. The couple visited a USCIS office in Rhode Island and just after sitting down for her interview, she was “unexpectedly detained by ICE,” the lawsuit alleges. In one case, the emails show ICE officials requesting USCIS to delay an immigrant’s meeting by 15 minutes because ICE agents were “getting a late start.”

The ACLU lawsuit claims that the government created this path to citizenship and is now using it to deport immigrants.

“The government created this particular path to lawful immigration status, and then arrested people for following that path,” Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement to mitú. “These were coordinated arrests – and the marriage interviews that our clients had to go through were set-ups.”

 The ACLU lawsuit argues that Homeland Security regulations created under former President Barack Obama allow immigrants with U.S.-citizen spouses to stay in the country while they seek a green card — even if they’re already subject to deportation.

“That regulation is still the law of the land,” Segal said. “So arresting these folks is not about law and order. These are people with a path to legalization and the government is trying to block that.”

ICE officials say the coordination between the two Department of Homeland Security agencies is “lawful and legitimate.”

Andrew Graham, a Boston-based ICE officer, told the AP, the agency usually receives lists of immigrants from the USCIS seeking legal residency who have already been ordered for deportation, had re-entered the country illegally.

Graham said ICE then works with USCIS to schedule legal status interviews so that ICE agents can be present to make an arrest. He says ICE agents like to spread out these interviews to help the workload on agents and to prevent generating “negative media interest” from arrests.

The lawsuit is bringing the “negative media interest” immigration officials were trying to avoid during their arrests.

Many on social media are denouncing coordination between ICE and the USCIS calling it “inhumane” and “unconscionable.” This lawsuit comes amidst other controversies for ICE officials who have faced public backlash this year for the separation and treatment of immigrants.

The ACLU’s findings are the latest in the class-action suit filed earlier this year on behalf of immigrants who have been or fear being separated from their U.S.-citizen spouses. The case will be argued on Aug. 20 in Boston federal court and will include five couples named in the case.


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