Federal immigration officials say they arrested seven undocumented immigrants who visited government offices in Massachusetts and Rhode Island last month to begin the process of becoming legal residents.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials made the disclosure in an affidavit filed Wednesday in US District Court in Boston, a week after Judge Mark Wolf demanded answers from the agency about the Jan. 17 arrest of a Guatemalan woman.
Lilian Pahola Calderon Jimenez, a 30-year-old mother of two children, was detained when she went with her husband to a government office in Johnston, R.I., for an interview about her application for legal status. She had just been told by officials from Citizenship and Immigration Services that her marriage had been recognized as legitimate, the first step toward gaining permanent status through her marriage to her longtime partner, an American citizen.
Moments later, ICE officials arrested her. She was held at a Boston jail for three weeks before being released Feb. 13.
After lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in federal court for her release, Wolf demanded that immigration officials provide the legal basis for her detention and whether others had been detained in a similar way.
“She is not eligible for any immigration benefits that would allow her to remain in the United States,” Todd M. Lyons, ICE’s deputy field office director in Massachusetts, wrote in a 10-page affidavit. In his Feb. 15 order, Wolf noted that Calderon’s arrest was “part of a pattern.” He outlined 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, a Dominican man, and four other unauthorized immigrants were arrested at a Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Lawrence under similar circumstances, Wolf noted.
In his affidavit, Lyons wrote that in addition to Calderon and Oliveira, five other people had been detained in January under similar circumstances. One person was detained and released the same day, he said.
ICE has become increasingly more aggressive in detaining undocumented immigrants under President Trump. In the Boston area, arrests climbed more than 50 percent in the last fiscal year.
Calderon’s lawyer, Adriana Lafaillea staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the detention of people seeking legal status was “unacceptable.”
“The ACLU will continue to fight for Lilian and against arbitrary and unlawful detention practices,” she said.
Calderon, whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 3 years old, was ordered to leave the country in 2002.
Since then, she has sought various ways to stay in the country, including applying for consideration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Her bid was denied because government officials said she could not prove she had stayed in the United States continuously. She is appealing that decision, her lawyers said.
ICE officials said Calderon was detained under the federal law that makes it illegal for any unauthorized immigrant to stay in the country and because they deemed her a “flight risk” based on her failure to leave the United States when ordered to do so by an immigration judge in 1999. Calderon was about 12 at the time.
Although Calderon had been approved to apply for a visa through her marriage, Lyons wrote that “this alone does not accord her lawful status in the United States.”
ICE officials said Calderon had her passport to travel and determined that her children, a 22-month old boy and a 4-year-old girl, would be safe in their father’s care.
ICE decided to release her after government officials reviewed her petition for a stay of removal, Lyons wrote.
Calderon now has a three-month reprieve from any removal proceedings and can file a request for more time, Lyons said.
“So long as she remains subject to a final administrative order of removal, the immigration statutes provide for her detention,” he wrote.
Lafaille said she was troubled by ICE’s confirmation that it is still willing to separate Calderon from her children despite her efforts to become a permanent president.
“The agency’s callous statement that abruptly tearing a mother from two young children presented a ‘lack of child-care issues’ underscores its basic disregard for the well-being of children,” she said. “And for the family unification that the regulations are designed to promote.”