Agencies set ‘trap’ for immigrants seeking legal status, ACLU says

Two federal immigration agencies coordinated a campaign to bring unauthorized immigrants who were seeking legal residency in for interviews at government offices, where they were then arrested and in some cases deported, according to internal agency communications.

The interviews were timed at the convenience of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who asked government officials to space out the meetings so the public would be less likely to find out about the arrests, according to e-mails between ICE agents and employees of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services disclosed in court records Monday.

“As far as scheduling goes, I would prefer not to do them all at one time as it is [not] only a strain on our ability to transport and process several arrests at once, but it also has the potential to be a trigger for negative media interests, as we have seen in the past,” Andrew Graham, an ICE officer, wrote to a Citizenship and Immigration Services employee in October.

The documents filed Monday offered striking details of the coordination between the agencies — a set-up that lawyers for the immigrants described as a “trap.’’

The e-mails were detailed in a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, on behalf of five immigrants and their spouses. The lawsuit challenges the Trump administration’s practice of separating married couples as one spouse seeks legal status.

ICE has acknowledged that agents in the Boston field office have so far this year detained 17 people around New England at government offices where they were seeking legal status through their families, according to ACLU lawyers. Some of those immigrants have already been deported, the lawyers say.

The immigrants who filed the lawsuit have received final orders of removal from the country but are married to American citizens and are seeking legal status through their spouses. Two of them, a Guatemalan mother of two and a Brazilian mother of three, were arrested earlier this year immediately after they were interviewed by officials from Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency charged with handling residency and citizenship.

The women were told by these officials that their marriages were deemed legitimate. Moments later, ICE agents came in and arrested them, according to their lawyers.

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