On Tuesday, the field director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Boston revealed that arrests of immigrants appearing for their permanent residence interviews were prompted by requests from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS is part of the Department of Homeland Security and handles relative petitions for family members of United States citizens seeking their permanent residence.
Nationally, there have been many arrests this year when immigrants with prior deportation orders have appeared for their permanent residence processing, called an “adjustment interview.” While the USCIS has claimed recently that it is not ordering these arrests, according to the testimony of acting ICE Field Director Todd Lyons, his office was contacted by USCIS to make the arrests.
In the past, people with valid applications for permanent residence who had a non-criminal deportation order were typically allowed time to close the deportation case so they could proceed with their application for residence.
Arrests of applicants with old deportation orders began back in February and appear to be part of a broader campaign by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security to discourage people from legalizing their status and becoming permanent residents.
The ACLU sued the federal government to block ICE from arresting immigrants applying for “Green Cards” through family members at their USCIS interviews. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf listened to the ACLU and the government argue over an order to halt the arrests. He said, “I’m inclined tentatively to believe that I have jurisdiction and that a plausible claim has been made” that the interview arrests should stop.
In questioning an attorney representing ICE, the judge asked if ICE would arrest and deport a mother breastfeeding a child with serious health problems. “I think ICE does consider that,” the government attorney replied. The judge responded, “The claim is that ICE doesn’t. To me, it’s plausible because so far in this case I’ve found ICE to be ignorant of its legal obligations.”
Arresting immigrants when they are trying to obtain legal status can only sow fear in immigrant communities. The new policy will only drive more immigrants underground.