Judge won’t dismiss Providence mother’s lawsuit against immigration officials

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BOSTON (WPRI) — The class-action lawsuit filed by a Providence woman against federal immigration officials in the Trump administration will move forward after a judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

Lilian Calderon, a Providence mother of two, is the lead plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, claiming ICE unlawfully arrested her, detaining her for nearly a month.

Calderon was taken into custody by ICE immediately following a marriage interview with her husband Luis Gordillo at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office back in January. The two were meeting with government officials to confirm their marriage, so Calderon could start the process of gaining legal residency.

“In effect, the government’s left hand beckoned her forward, and its right hand grabbed her,” the lawsuit says.

The ACLU said the judge, Mark L. Wolf, denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case Thursday after a multi-day hearing on the matter in federal court in Boston.

“While this process is difficult in so many ways, Luis and I are delighted that the judge has rejected the motion to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed,” Calderon told Eyewitness News in a statement on Thursday. “This gives us hope that no other family will have to endure what we have.”

Calderon, who was brought to the U.S. by her family from Guatemala at the age of three, grew up in Providence and went to Mount Pleasant High School, where she met Gordillo. While Gordillo and the couple’s two children are U.S. citizens, Calderon is still undocumented. 

The lawsuit says Calderon applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but was denied because “according to the government, she had not provided sufficient evidence of her continuous presence in the United States.”

So Calderon instead sought a path to legal residency through her marriage, seeking to use a waiver process that would allow her to leave the country, apply for a proper visa and return legally. Without the waiver, undocumented immigrants who leave the country are not allowed to return to the U.S. for ten years.

The process required an interview to confirm Calderon and Gordillo’s marriage at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Johnston. Immediately after the interview, Calderon was arrested by ICE officials.

“I was completely blindsided, because we were following the steps that were implemented,” Calderon said outside court on Monday. “Something that we could legally follow.”

Calderon was released in February, and has remained out of detention with her family as her case moves forward.

A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment on Thursday’s ruling, telling Eyewitness News the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

An affidavit filed by ICE in February in response to an order by the judge says Calderon was given “voluntary departure” when she was a child in 1999, and had a final order of removal in 2002.

Todd Lyons, a Deputy Field Office Director for ICE in Massachusetts, writes in the document that Calderon was considered a “flight risk,” and also cited the “availability of bed space and lack of child-care issues” as part of the decision to detain her.

Lyons also responds to a question from the judge about whether other immigrants were detained at their citizenship interviews by responding: “Yes, an addition five aliens subject to final orders of removal were so apprehended in January 2018.”

The ACLU claims the government was trapping these immigrants, using a “cruel bait and switch” to bring them in for interviews and then call ICE to arrest them. Documents filed last week include emails between Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) and ICE.

In one email, an ICE agent writes: “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.” 

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

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

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