BOSTON (CN) – Recasting a Guatemalan woman’s habeas case as a federal class action, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts accused immigration officials Wednesday of targeting the spouses of U.S. citizens.
Joined by attorneys at WilmerHale, the ACLU held a press conference this morning to announce the filing of an amended suit in Boston on behalf of several couples where immigrants who are vying to obtain legal status through marriage have either been detained by immigration enforcement agents or fear that they will soon be.
Dated April 10, the 32-page suit demands the release of Lucimar de Souza, whom Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents apprehended on Jan. 30, 2018, immediately after she and her husband of nearly 12 years participated in the interview process for their I-130 petition for alien relative.
De Souza and husband Sergio Francisco are one of four couples who are now co-plaintiffs to a habeas petition filed on Feb. 5 by Lilian Pahola Calderon Jimenez.
As revealed in a press conference that month, ICE agents took Calderon into custody for a month after she and her U.S. citizen husband presented themselves for a routine visit at the Providence, Rhode Island, office of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
“The Trump administration has relentlessly pursued detaining and deporting as many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs to family unity and civil rights,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a press conference this morning. “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.”
U.S. Customs and Immigration Services enacted the regulations in 2016 that make it possible for noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens to pursue lawful immigration status while remaining in the United States with their families.
ACLU attorneys note that the express purpose of the process is to protect U.S. citizens and their spouses from extended – and potentially indefinite – family separation.
Although the 2016 regulations remain in effect, the ACLU says the Trump administration has adopted a policy and practice of detaining and seeking to remove individuals who are pursuing this process. The group said ICE even admitted that seven individuals were arrested while seeking permanent residency at a Massachusetts or Rhode Island USCIS office in January 2018 alone.
Calderon urged other immigrants seeking legal status not to let fear of government action deter them
“I want to ask you to please come forward and follow the process,” she said this morning outside the Boston office of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We don’t want any families separated. Don’t be afraid, seek guidance.”
Calderon entered the United States with her parents when she was 3 years old. Almost three decades later, she married a U.S. citizen and had two kids.
Though she faces removal proceedings, the ACLU’s intervention earlier this year allows her to remain with her family as this process is underway.
“Because Ms. Calderon and Ms. Lucimar de Souza pose no danger or flight risk and were detained while pursuing available avenues to legalize their immigration status through their U.S. citizen spouses, their detention was and is not reasonably related to its purposes, and is unlawful,” the amended complaint states.
A spokesperson from ICE did not respond to an emailed request for comment.