Sun | Oct 20, 2019

Lawsuit alleges US feds using immigration marriage interviews as trap

Published:Tuesday | October 8, 2019 | 9:51 AM
In a photo taken June 21, 2019, Alyse Sanchez and her husband, Elmer Sanchez, pose for The Associated Press in Sandy Spring, Maryland. (AP Photo/Regina Garcia Cano)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Alyse and Elmer Sanchez were thrilled when they survived their “green card” interview, a crucial step in obtaining lawful status in the United States.

She texted her family from the immigration office as relief washed over her: The officer had agreed that their marriage is legitimate.

Moments later, Elmer was in shackles, detained pending deportation to his native Honduras, leaving her alone with their two little boys.

“We feel it was a trap, a trick, to get us there,” Alyse said.

The Sanchezes have joined five other couples in a class action accusing federal agents of luring families to marriage interviews in Baltimore, only to detain the immigrant spouse for deportation.

Federal regulations allow U.S. citizens like Alyse to try to legalise the status of spouses like Elmer, who has been living in the country illegally.

Thousands of families are doing it: Records show the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved 23,253 provisional unlawful presence waivers, the final documents spouses, children or parents of citizens need before leaving the country and applying to rejoin their families legally.

But the American Civil Liberties Union says a growing number of officers have “cruelly twisted” the rules by detaining immigrant spouses following marriage interviews.

The ACLU is pursuing a similar complaint in Massachusetts and says dozens of detentions also have happened at field offices in New York, Virginia, Florida, Illinois and California.

The Maryland case is assigned to U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel, who already reversed the deportation of a Chinese man detained after a successful marriage interview in Baltimore.

Ruling just before Wanrong Lin landed in Shanghai last November, Hazel said the government can’t use the process “as a honeypot to trap undocumented immigrants who seek to take advantage of its protections.”

Alyse told The Associated Press her family’s life “just seemed so perfect.”

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