Two federal immigration agencies worked together in a coordinated effort to set deportation traps for unsuspecting immigrants seeking legal status, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged in a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week.
According to the Boston Globe, the two agencies arranged meetings for the undocumented immigrants at government offices, where they were subsequently arrested, and in some cases deported.
According to e-mails obtained by the Globe between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and employees of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ICE asked government officials to space out the meetings so that the public wouldn’t catch on and draw “negative media interests.”
“As far as scheduling goes, I would prefer not to do them all at one time as it is [not] only a strain on our ability to transport and process several arrests at once, but it also has the potential to be a trigger for negative media interests, as we have seen in the past,” Andrew Graham, an ICE officer, wrote to a USCIS employee in one email from October.
“In my opinion, it makes sense for us to arrest aliens with final removal orders as they represent the end of the line in the removal process,” Graham said in a separate email from January. “They are typically the easiest to remove…and at the end of the day we are in the removal business and it’s our job to locate and arrest them.”
ACLU lawyers described the meetings as “traps.”
Information uncovered by documents and depositions shows USCIS actively coordinated with ICE to schedule and facilitate arrests at USCIS offices.
— ACLU Massachusetts (@ACLU_Mass) August 13, 2018
According to the Globe, the e-mails are part of the lawsuit against DHS Secretary Nielsen challenging the Trump administration’s practice of separating married couples as one spouse seeks legal status.
The plaintiff in the case, Lilian Calderon, is a 30-year-old Guatemalan-born mother of two who was brought to the United States when she was just two years old. According to the ACLU, she and her husband visited the UCSIS office in Rhode Island in January this year to start the process of becoming a legal permanent resident.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, which filed the lawsuit on her behalf, claims Calderon had already completed a “successful interview” when she was arrested by ICE agents and transported to a detention facility in Boston.
“Ever since that day, [our daughter] asks me why her mom has left… I’ve lost my best friend. I’m asking for her release because she needs to be with her family, and her children miss her,” Luis Calderon, Lilian’s husband, told the ACLU. “I don’t understand why this is happening when we thought we were doing everything right to keep our family together.”
A month after her arrest, and following a lengthy length legal back-and-forth, Federal Judge Mark Wolf issued an order barring ICE officials from deporting Calderon while the lawsuit was pending. On February 13, ICE finally released her from detention.
Calderon’s case, is far too familiar to many immigrant families across the country.
Lucimar De Souza, a Brazilian immigrant, lives with her American husband of more than 10 years and the couple’s child. De Souza was arrested in January at a UCSIS interview while attempting to prove her marriage was legitimate. She remained in ICE custody for more than four months.
“They put you in there and you have no idea when you are going to leave,” De Souza said at a press conference in May, days after her release. “Each day it’s one more day, one more day, but you never know. You hope it’s soon…but when?”
The federal government’s tactic of trapping immigrants seeking legal status squares with a Monday report by NBC News that found federal arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants have tripled under the Trump administration. In the first 14 months of the Trump administration alone, 58,010 undocumented immigrants without criminal convictions were arrested, many of them without warrants.
In one example previously highlighted by ThinkProgress, an undocumented mother who had been awarded a temporary work visa was detained by ICE during a routine check-in. According to her daughter, she was deported to Colombia, after living in the United States for 13 years.