A federal judge in Boston is demanding that immigration authorities explain why a Guatemalan mother of two was arrested and jailed for nearly a month after going to a government office to apply for legal residency.
On Jan. 17, Lilian Pahola Calderon Jimenez, a 30-year-old waitress whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 3, had just finished an interview with officials from Citizenship and Immigration Services in Johnston, R.I., when she was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
On Tuesday, she was released without explanation, eight days before US District Judge Mark Wolf was slated to hear her petition for release.
In an order handed down Thursday, Wolf pressed immigration officials for answers.
“The court has not been informed of the procedures that led to Calderon’s release, the reasons for it, or whether ICE asserts that it had lawfully detained Calderon and has the authority to do so again in the same manner,” Wolf wrote.
Calderon’s arrest was “part of a pattern,” Wolf noted, outlining the case of Fabiano Mateus de Oliveira, a Brazilian national also arrested in January after he went to a government office seeking permanent residency through his marriage to an American.
In March 2017, Leandro Arriaga Gil and four other unauthorized immigrants were arrested at a Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Lawrence under similar circumstances, the order noted.
Arriaga was abruptly released three months later, just before a scheduled hearing before Wolf, who had indicated he was willing to overrule immigration authorities and order Arriaga’s release.
Calderon, who was given a deportation order in 2002, when she was 15 years old, applied for residency in 2016 under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That was denied, with the government claiming she had not provided enough evidence of a continued presence in the country.
While that application was pending, she also sought residency through her husband. High school sweethearts, the couple has a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, according to court documents.
To gain legal status, the couple would have to go through several steps, the first of which was proving their marriage was not fraudulent. During the January interview, Calderon and her husband had just been told their marriage had been recognized as legitimate. She was still in the office when ICE officers arrested her, according to her lawyers.
“This seizure occurred even though Ms. Calderon followed procedures that the government itself has prescribed for avoiding such a tragedy,” her lawyers wrote in a petition challenging her detention.
“In effect, the government’s left hand beckoned her forward, and its right hand grabbed her.”
In his order, Wolf called on immigration officials to provide a detailed affidavit that describes who ordered Calderon’s detention, the legal basis for the decision, the procedures that went into the decision, who ordered her eventual release, and why she was released.
He also asked federal officials to say whether Calderon could be detained again and whether other people besides Calderon and de Oliveira were arrested as they sought permanent residency at a government office in Massachusetts or Rhode Island in January.
Government officials must submit the affidavit by Wednesday.
“I think the court points out a very troubling pattern of detaining people at their interviews while they are attempting to pursue avenues to correct deficiencies in their immigration status,” said Adriana Lafaille, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which is representing Calderon. “What we have to remember is she was following the steps that the government created to allow someone like her to come out of the shadows.”
A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office in Boston declined to comment on the case.
John Mohan, a spokesman for ICE, declined to comment on Calderon’s case because it is still pending.
“While ICE does focus its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, no classes or categories of removable aliens are exempt from potential enforcement,” Mohan said. “All individuals in violation of United States immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Calderon, who was unable to see her children while she was detained, remains baffled by the detention.
“It should have been a routine interview,” her lawyer said. “It violates basic notions of fairness, decency, and due process for the government to interrupt that process and pull a bait-and-switch.”