In Lawrence, Massachusetts, five people were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they attended their appointments at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, has confirmed that three of those arrested were beginning the process in order to become permanent residents, also known as green card holders.
Brian Doyle, the attorney of a Brazilian woman who was arrested after her interview session at the USCIS office, told his client previously that she might be detained before being able to complete the application process.
“Now, they’re in a sort of catch-22 where, ‘All right, I’m being called in for this interview. I want to have this first step approved.’ If they don’t show up, it’s what’s called abandoned … USCIS just sort of assumes that they don’t want to go forward with it,” Doyle explained to WBUR. “But now, if they do show up, trying to take that first step and they’re detained, it can lead to them being removed.”
This development signals a change in detainment priorities and tactics for ICE. During the Obama administration, undocumented people who were a priority for detainment had either entered the U.S. after 2014 or were charged with serious crimes. It is important to note that two of the arrested immigrants had no criminal record of any kind and the remaining three only had traffic violations.
“What this means is that people who are eligible to obtain their green card in the United States, who are following the law, who are following the rules, who are doing what the government is instructing them to do, are going to be too terrified to show up and follow through with the process,” Susan Church of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association said. “And now a whole new category of people is going to go back into the shadow of immigration land and be living in fear.”
ICE released a statement, saying “All five individuals have final orders of removal issued by a federal immigration judge. All five will be held in custody pending removal from the United States.”
ICE detaining immigrants who are taking the necessary steps to obtain legal status and attending their regularly scheduled appointments with USCIS is a new tactic that we have not seen before. This discourages and punishes the immigrant community from doing exactly what they should be doing, and that is to comply with the law. These five individuals had no criminal record and yet were detained. We have to ask the question: Who exactly is this administration targeting?