ACLU: Agencies lured undocumented immigrants to interviews, arrested them

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  The Rhode Island ACLU says documents filed in court Monday show two government agencies conspired to lure undocumented immigrants to government offices to be arrested or sometimes deported. 

The documents were filed in federal court as part of the ACLU’s class action lawsuit involving Rhode Island resident Lilian Calderon, who was detained after an interview to certify her marriage with her husband back in January.

One of the exhibits filed Monday includes emails sent by a man identified as a field enforcement agent for Boston’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) field office. In the email, the agent outlines how Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) would send ICE a list of undocumented immigrants subject to final orders of removal, those who had re-entered the country, or those classified as an “egregious criminal aliens.”

The agent goes on to write, “When we receive the list of potential arrest targets, we vet each one for criminality, medical issues, likelihood of receiving an immigration benefit, likelihood of removal, and any other significant factor that would influence our decision to take the subject into custody.”

The email says ICE would then tell CIS which people they had an interest in arresting, and then “CIS schedules the interviews and spreads them out over a period of time so as not to overburden our ability to handle the workload.”

In a separate email, the same agent said they spread the interviews out because “it also has the potential to be a trigger for negative media interest.” 

According to the agent’s emails, CIS notifies ICE when the person has arrived for an interview, and ICE sends two agents to question the person and take them into custody if appropriate. 

“In my opinion, it makes sense to us to arrest aliens with final removal orders as they represent the end of the line in the removal process,” the agent writes. “They are typically the easiest to remove, they have the shortest average length of stay, and at the end of the day we are in the removal business and it’s our job to locate and arrest them.” 

Executive Director for Rhode Island’s ACLU, Steven Brown, called the developments “quite a bombshell.”

“It truly is absolutely shocking that federal agencies were engaged in this type of cruel bait and switch for people using the process they had been encouraged the use,” he said. 

A judge had issued a final order of removal for Calderon, a mother of two who came to the U.S. from Guatemala when she was 3 years old. 

On Jan. 15, Calderon was attending an interview to get her marriage verified and begin the citizenship process, but ICE officers took her into custody shortly afterward and held her for a month. 

Calderon was eventually granted a 90-day stay of removal when she was released just before Valentine’s Day, but that expired in May. Calderon said she’s now been granted an extension until mid-August.

Calderon is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit the ACLU has filed, challenging the Trump Administration’s pattern of separating married couples who are pursuing immigration status.

The emails filed Monday say lawyers for undocumented immigrants were often present at their interviews and aware of their client’s removal status. The emails also say CIS has an internal policy that allows them to notify ICE “when removable aliens are encountered.”

A spokesman for DHS and ICE declined to comment on the emails, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

Brown called the practice “truly despicable.”

“Essentially, they waved the carrot of permanent legal status before unsuspecting immigrants with the intent of arresting, detaining and deporting them,” Brown said. “The devastating effect of these machinations was to unnecessarily and cruelly tear families apart.”

A judge is set to hear Calderon’s case on Monday in Boston. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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