The ACLU of Massachusetts today announced it has filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status. The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of immigrants and their U.S.-citizen spouses whose lives have been upended by the Trump administration’s deportation machine.
Together with WilmerHale, the ACLU last night filed the class action lawsuit against President Trump, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, and others in an effort to protect petitioners from detention and deportation while they pursue the government’s pathway for obtaining lawful immigration status based on their marriage.

“The Trump administration has relentlessly pursued detaining and deporting as many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs to family unity and civil rights,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “In all of the quotas, the raids, and other cogs of the Trump deportation machines, there are human beings. There’s a lot at stake here; this class action lawsuit seeks justice for all the families – the married couples, the mothers, the fathers – torn apart by this administration. Today, we warn Trump, again: we’ll see you in court.”

The class action filing arises from incompatible actions of two DHS agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ICE. In 2016, USCIS enacted 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 express purpose of the process, according to the lawsuit, is to protect U.S. citizens and their spouses from extended – and potentially indefinite – family separation.

Although the 2016 regulations remain in effect, ICE has recently adopted a policy and practice of detaining and seeking to remove individuals who are pursuing this process. In fact, ICE has admitted that seven individuals were arrested while seeking permanent residency at a Massachusetts or Rhode Island USCIS office in January 2018 alone.

“The Trump administration is engaged in a widespread practice of separating families with no legitimate immigration enforcement purpose,” said Kevin Prussia, partner at WilmerHale and president of the ACLU of Massachusetts Board of Directors. “This is yet another example of a senseless ICE policy that interferes with the right to due process and assaults our fundamental constitutional values.”

The class action lawsuit follows ACLU of Massachusetts action in the recent case of Lilian Calderon, a mother of two who came to the United States from Guatemala when she was three years old. In January, 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 – separated from her husband and two young children – for nearly a month. Though she was released in February, she remains subject to the threat of detention and removal despite her progress towards legalization.

In addition to Calderon and her husband Luis Gordillo, the other petitioners include:

  • Lucimar de Souza and Sergio Francisco: On January 30, Ms. de Souza and Mr. Francisco together attended their interview to confirm their marriage for her lawful immigration status. Immediately after the interview, and despite the approval of the marriage petition, Ms. de Souza was detained and today remains held at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston, separated from her husband and 10-year-old son.
  • Sandro de Souza and Carmen Sanchez: de Souza – a Brazilian immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years – has been ordered to depart the country by April 24, despite progress on his pending application process via USCIS and despite his history of checking in regularly with ICE. Without the federal court’s intervention, he will be forced to leave behind his U.S. citizen wife and lawful permanent resident son.
  • Oscar Rivas and Celina Rivera Rivas: Rivas fled his native El Salvador at age 18 and sought asylum in the United States after being beaten and shot at for refusing to join a gang. Since his asylum case was denied, he has regularly presented himself to ICE, appearing at every court date and check-in required. Ten years later, he started a family, and filed his application for lawful immigration status. At his March 1 check-in with ICE, he was ordered to depart the country by May 2. His removal would devastate his U.S. citizen wife and two young children.
  • Deng Gao and Amy Chen: Gao is currently in the queue for an interview in Boston to confirm his marriage. The couple fears that, like others, Mr. Gao could be detained at this interview. Their four children – including their newborn and 12-year-old son who requires constant care – are particularly dependent on him for financial support.

“In Lilian’s case, the government’s one hand beckoned her forward, and its other hand grabbed her,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “The expansion of her case into a class action lawsuit shows the devastating and far-reaching impact of Trump’s mass deportation agenda.”

Learn more about the case, Calderon v. Nielson.

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