In a photo taken June 21, 2019, Alyse Sanchez and her husband, Elmer Sanchez, pose for The AP in Sandy Spring, Md.
A family in Baltimore, Maryland has joined other couples in a class action suit in a Federal court in Maryland, accusing immigration agents of luring immigrants to marriage-based green card interviews, only to then detain the immigrant spouse pending deportation.
Alyse Sanchez says she and her husband Elmer Sanchez were thrilled when they attended their green card interview at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Baltimore field office and the officer determined that their marriage is bona fide. Their joys was short-lived however because moments later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Elmer.
Alyse says the interviewer confirmed their marriage as bona fide and said they would get approval in the mail after his supervisor approved the case. Alyse was told to leave the room and minutes later, their lawyer told her Elmer had been detained.
Elmer was held for six weeks and shuffled around various detention centers around the country. He was eventually released in June after the ACLU filed an emergency order to prevent his deportation.
Federal regulations allow spouses of US citizens who have accrued unlawful presence to legalize their status within the US by getting a provisional unlawful presence waivers, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says at an increasing rate, immigration officers have been “cruelly” twisting the rules by detaining the immigration spouse following marriage-based interviews.
The lawsuit indicates that Alyse and Elmer, who have been married since 2013 and have two sons together, submitted their paperwork in September, 2018 and later received a notice to attend an interview to May 7th “solely to confirm the bona fides of the couple's marriage” and did not expect that their appearance would lead to his detention. "We feel it was a trap, a trick, to get us there," Alyse tells The Associated Press.
Court records indicate Elmer had been ordered deported in absentia in 2005 after he missed an immigration hearing. He says he never received the notice of the hearing. Elemer’s lawyer says regulations provide for people like Elmer who have deportation orders to apply for adjustment of status through marriage within the US and attend the interview. Those with accrued unlawful presence are also required to receive a waiver which allows them to travel outside the US to attend a visa interview at a US consulate. They then can return to the US legally.
The plaintiffs say since 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security has been unlawfully using the interview process as bait to arrest immigrants.
"Previous practice would allow immigration lawyers to bring their clients to their interviews without fear of arrest because there was an understanding that they were trying to receive Green Cards, notwithstanding the removal orders, and there's also longstanding guidance that USCIS should be following, that prohibits arrests at interviews," ACLU of Maryland attorney Nick Steiner too AP in an email.