Recently unsealed documents and depositions show the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses its own regulations – which were designed to protect the families of noncitizens from unnecessary separation during the legalization process – to target individuals for detention and deportation. The documents show U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) actively coordinated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to schedule and facilitate arrests at USCIS offices.

The court filing – which was made under seal on August 1, 2018 and released nearly two weeks later – is part of our class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status. The class action lawsuit was filed in April on behalf of five immigrants and their U.S. citizen spouses; the couples are trying to avail themselves of 2016 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.

It was a setup. New documents show USCIS and ICE collaborated to separate families and arrest people pursuing legal immigration status.

According to the recent filing, documents obtained in discovery reveal the “stunning extent” to which DHS in New England transformed the 2016 regulations into a trap calculated to cause unnecessary separation of married couples and families.  These documents and depositions show USCIS and ICE have worked hand-in-hand to bring individuals in for interviews so that ICE could arrest and deport them: USCIS sends ICE a full list of pending interviews designed to confirm marriage, the first step in the process of seeking to become a lawful permanent resident. ICE would then tell CIS which noncitizens it wanted to arrest, and USCIS would schedule interviews for those individuals, doing so at a time convenient for local ICE officials to arrest them.

Two of the petitioners in the case, Lilian Calderon and Lucimar de Souza, were among the seventeen individuals detained at USCIS after appearing for marriage interviews in 2018.

In January, Lilian Calderon appeared at a Rhode Island USCIS office with her U.S. citizen husband for an interview designed to confirm their marriage. 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.

That same month, Lucimar de Souza and her husband together attended an interview to confirm their marriage for her lawful immigration status. Immediately after the interview, and despite the approval of the marriage petition, she was detained and remained separated from her husband and 10-year-old son for three months.

Calderon and de Souza were both released from detention following ACLU legal action. In May, ICE officials testified in hearings held by U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf designed to determine what happened to Calderon, de Souza, and other similarly situated immigrants in New England. In July, top ICE officials in Boston were deposed as part of the lawsuit.

We’re in court again this month, fighting the government’s motion to dismiss this lawsuit, and requesting class certification and temporary relief for class members while the case continues.

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Photo: Lilian Calderon and her husband Luis Gordillo

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