A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s practice of separating married couples and families while immigrants seek legal status can become a class-action complaint.
Hundreds if not thousands of immigrants and their spouses across New England would be affected by any order Boston US District Court Judge Mark Wolf imposes on federal authorities regarding the treatment of immigrants, according to lawyers for the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the complaint in February 2018 against the Department of Homeland Security.
Wolf’s Thursday ruling “ensures that we will be able to fight in court not just for the rights for our clients, but for all those others who are in the same situation,” said Adriana Lafaille, a staff attorney with the ACLU.
The complaint has been filed on behalf of five immigrants and their spouses, who asked Wolf to file an injunction against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to prevent the agency from arresting them and detaining them as they seek legal status through their husbands and wives, who are American citizens.
The immigrants have received final orders of removal from the country, but the ACLU has argued that ICE violated federal regulations when it did not consider that the immigrants may have qualified for provisional waivers that allow them to stay in the United States with their families while their applications for legal residency are pending.
Two of immigrants, Lilian Calderon, a Guatemalan mother of two, and Lucimar de Souza, a Brazilian mother of three, were arrested in 2018 immediately after they were interviewed by officials from Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with handling residency and citizenship.
Calderon was held for nearly four weeks and de Souza for nearly five months but both were released just before Wolf was expected to order ICE to set them free.
Wolf has held several hearings over the past 15 months that have forced ICE officials to the witness stand to explain the policy.
E-mails and depositions of ICE agents have shown that ICE and the office of Citizenship and Immigration Services were working “hand-in-hand” to bring people in for interviews so they could be arrested and deported, lawyers for the ACLU have said. Essentially, the agencies coordinated to set a trap for the immigrants, the ACLU has said.
ICE officials have said that the agency is within its rights to arrest immigrants with outstanding deportation orders.
John Mohan, a spokesman for ICE, declined to comment on Wolf’s latest ruling citing the ongoing litigation. He referred to a statement the agency has released before that said neither agency acted wrongly.
“Allegations of any inappropriate coordination between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are unfounded,” he said in an e-mail. “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, and we look forward to continuing to maintain this critical working relationship with our valued federal partner agency.’’
Wolf has yet to rule on the injunction. But any decision he makes will extend to other immigrants whose circumstances mirror the five plaintiffs in the current case.
“This ruling allows us to fight to make sure that what happened to Lilian Calderon and Lucimar de Souza will never happen to anyone again,” Lafaille said.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice also had sought to dismiss the immigrants’ allegation that their rights under the 14th Amendment, which ensures equal protection, had been violated by the Department of Homeland Security.
But Wolf agreed with the plaintiffs that while ICE may have had some legitimate reasons for the policies, the ACLU had made a plausible argument that the arrests and detentions were based on racial animus.