BOSTON - The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Rhode Island resident and mother Lilian Calderon, who was recently released from detention as the result of earlier ACLU court action.
In January, Ms. Calderon appeared at the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office with her husband for an interview designed to confirm their marriage, the first step in the process of seeking to become a lawful permanent resident. Immediately after the interview, she was abruptly detained by ICE and taken to a detention facility in Boston where she was held for nearly a month. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, in conjunction with the ACLU of Rhode Island, led to her release in February, however Ms. Calderon remains subject to the threat of detention and removal despite her progress towards legalization.
“Ms. Calderon is the mother of two young children who has never been in trouble with the law. In fact, she was arrested by ICE while she was trying to obey the law. She was doing exactly what the government had asked in light of her immigration status before they snatched her away from her family,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “As today’s class action lawsuit makes clear, Ms. Calderon’s plight is far from unique. As a nation of immigrants, it is appalling to see the federal government’s now-persistent and cruel attack on families like the Calderons who are simply trying to follow the rules,” Brown continued.
The class action lawsuit is against President Trump, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, on behalf of Ms. Calderon, her husband, and others, in an effort to protect immigrants from detention and deportation and to keep families together while noncitizen spouses pursue the government's pathway for lawful immigration status.
The class action filing arises from incompatible actions of two DHS agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and ICE. In 2016, USCIS enacted regulations that allowed certain noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens to pursue lawful immigration status while remaining in the United States with their families. The express purpose of the process, according to the lawsuit, is to protect U.S. citizens and their spouses from extended – and potentially indefinite – family separation.
Although the 2016 regulations remain in effect, ICE has recently adopted a policy and practice of detaining and seeking to remove individuals who are pursuing this process. In fact, ICE has admitted that seven individuals were arrested while seeking permanent residency at a Massachusetts or Rhode Island USCIS office in January 2018 alone.
In addition to Calderon and her husband Luis Gordillo, the other petitioners include:
- Lucimar de Souza and Sergio Francisco: On January 30, Ms. de Souza and Mr. Francisco together attended their interview to confirm their marriage for her lawful immigration status. Immediately after the interview, and despite the approval of the marriage petition, Ms. de Souza was detained and today remains held at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in Boston, separated from her husband and 10-year-old son.
- Sandro de Souza and Carmen Sanchez: Mr. de Souza – a Brazilian immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years – has been ordered to depart the country by April 24, despite progress on his pending application process via USCIS and despite his history of checking in regularly with ICE. Without the federal court’s intervention, he will be forced to leave behind his U.S. citizen wife and lawful permanent resident son.
- Oscar Rivas and Celina Rivera Rivas: Mr. Rivas fled his native El Salvador at age 18 and sought asylum in the United States after being beaten and shot at for refusing to join a gang. Since his asylum case was denied, he has regularly presented himself to ICE, appearing at every court date and check-in required. Ten years later, he started a family, and filed his application for lawful immigration status. At his March 1 check-in with ICE, he was ordered to depart the country by May 2. His removal would devastate his U.S. citizen wife and two young children.
- Deng Gao and Amy Chen: Mr. Gao is currently in the queue for an interview in Boston to confirm his marriage. The couple fears that, like others, Mr. Gao could be detained at this interview. Their four children – including their newborn and 12-year-old son who requires constant care – are particularly dependent on him for financial support.
“The Trump administration has relentlessly pursued detaining and deporting as many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs to family unity and civil rights,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “In all of the quotas, the raids, and other cogs of the Trump deportation machines, there are human beings. There’s a lot at stake here; this class action lawsuit seeks justice for all the families – the married couples, the mothers, the fathers – torn apart by this administration. Today, we warn Trump, again: we’ll see you in court.”