A federal judge today ruled that an ACLU lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status can move forward as a class action. The ruling extends the impact of the lawsuit to hundreds or thousands of New England citizens and their noncitizen spouses.

The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm WilmerHale, filed the class action lawsuit in April 2018 on behalf of five immigrants and their U.S. citizen spouses. The couples are trying to avail themselves of 2013 and 2016 United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations that allowed certain noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens to pursue lawful immigration status while remaining in the United States with their families. The lawsuit alleges that the government has unlawfully arrested, detained, and deported people pursuing the process set out in these regulations.

Filings in the case revealed how the United States had used its own regulations – which were designed to protect the families from unnecessary separation during the legalization process – to target individuals for detention and deportation. Information uncovered by documents and depositions shows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) actively coordinated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to schedule and facilitate arrests at USCIS offices.

“The family separation crisis – whether on the southern border or in New England government offices – is the direct result of the Trump administration's policy choices, driven by the view that immigrants deserve nothing but cruelty and punishment,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This class certification is about ensuring that families stay together.”

In January 2018, Lilian Calderon appeared at a Rhode Island USCIS office with her U.S. citizen husband for an interview designed to confirm their marriage, the first step in the process of seeking to become a lawful permanent resident. Immediately after the interview, she was abruptly detained by ICE and taken to a detention facility in Boston, where she was held for nearly a month while ICE planned to deport her away from her husband and two young children. Calderon was released from detention in February 2018 following ACLU legal action.

Today’s ruling extends the lawsuit beyond the five named plaintiffs to include other New England-area citizens and their noncitizen spouses who have begun the process of seeking lawful status under the DHS regulations. According to the ACLU, the 2016 regulations held out the promise of a path by which these families could seek lawful status for the noncitizen spouse, without the prolonged family separation that was previously required, and when a sea-change in policy all but eliminated the possibility that they would one day reach the end of the path intact, the futures of each of these families were imperiled.

The Court also denied the government’s motion to dismiss petitioners’ equal protection claim, finding that statements by President Trump and policies adopted by his administration supported a plausible claim that the harms petitioners suffered were the product of racial animus.

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