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ICE Continues to Arrest Immigrants at Their Hearings for Legal Residency Status

Experts say detaining immigrants at appointments with authorities discourages them from cooperating with law enforcement.
A new American citizen poses for photos following a naturalization ceremony on February 2nd, 2018, in New York City.

A new American citizen poses for photos following a naturalization ceremony on February 2nd, 2018, in New York City.

Lilian Calderon, an immigrant who was detained at an appointment with immigration authorities, has reportedly obtained the Green Card that she sought. Calderon is one of several immigrants named in a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop immigration authorities from enforcing at government buildings when immigrants are trying to comply with the authorities, a practice that advocates characterize as the state-sanctioned entrapment of law-abiding prospective citizens.

Calderon was arrested in January of 2018, shortly after completing an interview with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in which she was applying to gain legal residency status through her marriage to a U.S. national. About a month later, the American Civil Liberties Union sued to block her deportation to her birth country of Guatemala and secure her release.

Then, in April of 2018, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Calderon and four other families targeted in what is described in the complaint as ICE sting operations at the Massachusetts and Rhode Island USCIS offices. The complaint describes ICE's actions as working at odds with USCIS.

"What ICE lacks, though, is a lawful basis for its actions," the complaint says. "Its efforts to detain and remove noncitizen Petitioners violates the rights of all Petitioners under the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, the Immigration and Nationality Act and its regulations, and the Administrative Procedure Act."

On Friday, the ACLU of Massachusetts tweeted that Calderon had obtained the permanent status she had been seeking. "After being unlawfully detained by ICE following an immigration interview, our client Lilian Calderon is now a legal U.S. resident," the tweet said.

The ACLU of Massachusetts did not respond to a request for further comment on the pending litigation or how the development in Calderon's case would affect their ongoing class action suit, Calderon v. Nielsen. ICE also did not respond to a request for comment.

Immigration experts believe Calderon's initial arrest to have been excessive, if not unique. Calderon's arrest "is another example of the aggressive ICE enforcement operations we have been seeing under this presidential administration where everyone is an enforcement priority, even a woman with long ties to the U.S. who may have a viable way to become a permanent resident," says Jean Reisz, a University of Southern California law professor and supervising attorney at the university's immigration clinic.

Calderon's situation also illustrates the way the administration targets mixed status families. "If a spouse, parent, or child is undocumented, the applicant is deterred from applying in light of the knowledge that USCIS is apparently sharing information with ICE," Reisz adds.

The Calderon v. Nielsen case comes amid several simultaneous efforts to stop ICE from enforcing at USCIS offices and courthouses. In April, Massachusetts district attorneys sued to stop ICE from enforcing at courthouses. Last month, a federal judge ruled in a separate case that ICE acted unlawfully when it detained an immigrant, Wanrong Lin, at an appointment with authorities to obtain an immigration waiver. The judge in Lin's case ruled that ICE could not use such appointments to entrap immigrants. Although the ruling was limited in scope to Lin's case alone, Richard Boswell, a law professor at the University of California–Hastings specializing in immigration law, told Pacific Standard in May that it could influence similar cases, should a broader challenge arise.

Experts say that the practice of detaining immigrants at courthouses and appointments with authorities serves to functionally force immigrants into criminality or continual victimization by discouraging them from cooperating with law enforcement.

What's more, immigration law experts say that the practice runs afoul of the administration's unfulfilled promises to slash the immigration court backlog, which continues to pressurize an overwrought system. Currently 892,517 people await hearings on their asylum cases, according to Syracuse University non-profit data research center Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. "One way to reduce the backlog in immigration court would be to allow people to seek benefits at USCIS without fear of ICE enforcement as opposed to arresting them and adding to the immigration court's docket individuals like Ms. Calderon who have meritorious cases for remaining in the United States and obtaining status," Reisz says.

Many immigrant rights advocates say that the USCIS and courthouse sting operations have major implications for both individual families and the nation.

"The ICE practice of detaining people at USCIS appointments is an affront to due process and a threat to the credibility of our nation's governmental agencies," says Cleve May, the pastor of a church that housed an immigrant detained at a USCIS appointment and later deported. "If people within our immigration processes cannot trust that the process they are given will not be a means of entrapment, then what office of our government can any one of us trust? This practice is abhorrent, and ICE must be stopped."

It remains to be seen whether the several challenges to ICE's practice of detaining law-abiding non-citizens will amount to a more comprehensive challenge to a phenomena affecting immigrants nationwide.