Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is mired in another legal battle, and this time it involves an alleged “coordination” with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). According to a new ACLU lawsuit, the agencies worked together so that ICE could detain undocumented spouses married to American citizens when they interview for legal status with USCIS.
Such interviews are standard for undocumented immigrant spouses seeking legal status. But the ACLU claims that USCIS officials scheduled interviews with immigrants when ICE agents could come by to arrest them, CNN reported. The ACLU called the procedure a "trap" in documents.
"The government created this path for them to seek a green card. The government can’t create that path and then arrest folks for following that path," Associated Press reported that the ACLU's Massachusetts legal director Matthew Segal said.
ICE's Boston department spokesman John Mohan told the Washington Post that the ACLU's claims that "inappropriate coordination" between the two agencies were "unfounded." Mohan added, "This routine coordination within the Department of Homeland Security, not unlike the cooperative efforts we maintain with many other federal partners, is lawful and legitimate in the work we do to uphold our nation’s immigration laws."
Documents shared by the ACLU paint a different picture. The Post reported on email exchanges between ICE and USCIS officials that were revealed in federal court by the ACLU on Tuesday. In one of them, ICE officer Andrew Graham wrote to USCIS about wanting to "schedule" arrests at different times so ICE agents could be present to detain undocumented individuals. "As far as scheduling goes," Graham reportedly wrote in an October 2017 email, "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 interest, as we have seen in the past."
In the email, Graham also wrote, "If you have the availability to schedule one or two at a time and spread them apart, that works best for us." In a Jan. 30 email, Graham wrote, "[US]CIS completes the interview while our [ICE] officers are en route."
USCIS spokesman Michael Bars told The Post that while the agency couldn’t comment on legal action, the agency was required to “notify the appropriate law enforcement agency but has no role in issuing warrants or removal orders."
According to the ACLU's lawsuit, at least 17 people in the United States have been ensnared by such "coordination" between ICE and USCIS officials. Among them, as The Washington Post reported, was an undocumented woman named Lilian Calderon. Calderon, who is married to American citizen Luis, was reportedly scheduled for a legal status interview with USCIS in Rhode Island on Jan. 17. Calderon told her daughter that day that she would be home once the interview with the USCIS officials was completed, according to The Post.
In a press conference on Feb. 14, Calderon described her experience and said that it seemed as if the interview was going well. It even included "football banter," according to her.
But towards the end of Calderon's interview with USCIS, she claimed that ICE officials appeared and then detained her. She was kept in ICE custody for a month, according to the ACLU. In April, the organization filed a class-action lawsuit against ICE, calling the process a "cruel bait and switch" process.
In its lawsuit, the ACLU argued that the conduct of ICE and USCIS violated the Immigration Nationality Act as well as Calderon's — and others' — rights to due process. For now, it's hard to say what will happen to the fates of Calderon and others like her. In the meantime, The Post reported that a federal hearing is scheduled for Monday to dismiss the ACLU's lawsuit.