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Mass. ACLU sues Trump administration, citing ‘bait and switch’ immigration policy

The ACLU of Massachusetts sued the Trump administration over what it called a “bait and switch” detention policy for undocumented immmigrants who are following a legal path to seek permanent residency in the United States.
The ACLU of Massachusetts sued the Trump administration over what it called a “bait and switch” detention policy for undocumented immmigrants who are following a legal path to seek permanent residency in the United States.(Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images)

The ACLU of Massachusetts announced Wednesday that it had sued the Trump administration, alleging the federal government is pulling a “bait and switch” by detaining and threatening to detain undocumented immigrants who are following a legal path to seek permanent residency through their American spouses.

In the class-action lawsuit filed in US District Court in Massachusetts, the civil rights organization argues that the lives of five married couples — all with children born in the United States or who are legal residents — “have been unlawfully and unconstitutionally upended” because the administration’s “immigration policies reflect a consistent desire to drive out immigrants of color and prevent non-white people from becoming American.”

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The noncitizen spouses are from Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and China.

The organization points to President Trump’s history of making disparaging remarks about chain migration and immigrants of color as evidence that the administration’s governing philosophy is grounded in bigotry. It asked the court to intervene on behalf of the petitioners “and all others similarly situated.”

“We are extremely grateful to all of the clients that have come forward and that have been willing to fight not only on their own behalf but on behalf of others like them who are … trying to do what the government asked them to do, to come out of the shadows and apply for their lawful permanent residency,” Adriana Lafaille, an attorney with the ACLU, said at a news conference Wednesday.

John Mohan, spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that as a matter of policy the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The class-action suit stems from the case of Lilian Calderon Jimenez, a 30-year-old waitress from Providence who was detained by ICE in January as she attempted to apply for legal permanent residency.

“We’re told go to the interview. We’re not told that after the interview you’re not going to go back home. You’re not going to see your family,” Calderon said at Wednesday’s news conference. “It’s not fair what’s happening to us. We’re trying to help other people that are in the same situation.”

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Calderon was 3 years old when her parents brought her to the United States from Guatemala. An immigration judge denied the family’s bid for asylum, and she was given a final deportation order at 15 but remained in the country illegally. She met her husband, Luis Gordillo, a US citizen, in high school, and they eventually had two young children, now 4 and 2.

The couple married in 2016, the same year the government included immigrants facing deportation in regulations that allowed those who had applied for residency through their spouses to seek a waiver to remain in the country while their applications were pending. The purpose of process, according to the lawsuit, was to minimize extended — and potentially indefinite — family separation.

Apparently that is no longer the case.

Minutes after finishing an interview with US Citizenship and Immigration Services in January that confirmed the legitimacy of Calderon and Gordillo’s marriage — the first step in changing Calderon’s immigration status — she was arrested and brought to a Boston detention center, where she was held for nearly a month.

Her immigration status remains unresolved, and she is not alone.

“ICE has admitted that five individuals other than Petitioner Calderon were arrested while seeking permanent residency at a Massachusetts or Rhode Island USCIS office in January 2018 alone,” the lawsuit says.

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Included in that count is Lucimar de Souza, who remains in custody and is named in the suit. Of the other named in the suit: two have been ordered to leave the country and another fears being detained at his interview.

The suit said dozens, if not thousands, more could be more harmed by ICE’s actions if the courts don’t intervene. In 2017, there were more than 9,000 applications pending with USCIS for noncitizen relatives who want to immigrate to the United States, according to the suit.

While Mohan, the ICE spokesman, would not comment specifically about the lawsuit on Wednesday, he has said previously that, in general, immigrants with a final removal order should be aware they are at risk of being detained at any time.

But attorneys say ICE is unjustly targeting immigrants who are following the legal process.

“The Trump administration is engaged in a widespread practice of separating families, and that practice has no legitimate immigration enforcement purpose,” said Jonathan Cox, an attorney at WilmerHale, a law firm that filed the class-action suit in conjunction with the ACLU.

De Souza married her husband, Sergio Francisco, in 2006, and the couple has a 10-year-old son. The native of Brazil, who immigrated to the United States in 2002, was caught at the border and released but did not receive a notice to appear in immigration court despite having a hearing, the suit says. When she failed to appear in court, an order for her deportation was issued.

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Like Calderon, she began seeking residency through her husband in 2016, and she too was detained after her interview with USCIS confirmed her marriage was legitimate.

“Ms. Lucimar de Souza’s detention has been extremely trying for her family, especially her 10-year-old son, who has begged to be allowed to stay with his mother in detention rather than go back home without her,” the suit says.


Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com.