All nine of Massachusetts’ representatives in the US House called on the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday to direct Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents not to arrest unauthorized immigrants when they appear at government offices for appointments about their applications for legal residency.
“We all have an interest in bringing these individuals out of the shadows and under the law, so we should not be deterring them from utilizing the very process the federal government has established for this purpose,” the letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stated. “The fear of detention, regardless of how frequently it actually takes place, discourages members of our community from resolving their immigration status.”
The letter was sent one day before a federal judge is scheduled to resume hearings on a lawsuit against the agency filed by five immigrants and their spouses. It was signed by US Representatives Seth Moulton, James P. McGovern, Richard E. Neal, Katherine Clark, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch, Joseph P. Kennedy III, Michael E. Capuano, and William R. Keating.
The lawsuit asks Judge Mark Wolf to order Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston not to arrest and detain immigrants seeking legal residency through their American relatives, specifically those who may qualify for provisional waivers put in place by the Department of Homeland Security that are meant to keep immigrants with their American families while their residency applications are processed.
On Aug. 14, lawyers for the immigrants submitted e-mails between ICE and US Customs and Immigration Services, the agency that processes residency and citizenship, that showed the two agencies were communicating with each other about visits from immigrants with final orders of removal.
Those immigrants would arrive for meetings scheduled by immigration officials, who then told ICE when to arrive so they could arrest them. In some cases, the immigrants were arrested after they were told they had been approved for an I-130, the first step for an immigrant trying to seek legal residency through an American relative.
The practice also occurred during the Obama administration, immigration attorneys say, but the revelation of the e-mails has sparked fury among political leaders in Massachusetts who said ICE should focus on immigrants who pose a threat to public safety, not immigrants trying to legalize their status.
“We are particularly concerned about the chilling effect the threat of detention will have on those who are working to resolve their immigration status,” the delegation members wrote. “There is a clear and compelling interest in encouraging the timely and proper resolution of ongoing cases with USCIS, and ICE should not hinder that effort.”
In May, Thomas Brophy, then the interim director of the Boston ICE field office, told Wolf during a hearing that ICE was no longer arresting immigrants at USCIS offices and that officers had been directed to focus on immigrants who posed a public safety threat.
Brophy was subsequently replaced by Rebecca Adducci, who told Wolf in June that ICE could not “exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement” without violating President Trump’s executive order.
An ICE spokesman has defended the collaboration between ICE and USCIS as a “routine coordination” needed to enforce immigration laws.
The letter from the Massachusetts delegation called on Homeland Security to “reverse” back to Brophy’s directive.
In court Tuesday, Adducci and Todd Lyons, who took over as ICE field office director on Sunday, told Wolf no one had been arrested at USCIS offices since February, when the lawsuit was filed, and that agents have been focused on criminal offenders. The Boston field office covers all of New England.
But lawyers for the immigrants said during the same hearing that ICE arrested a Polish man seeking legal residency through his wife at his Connecticut home in March and detained him for two months.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.