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Get Married, Get Deported: Baltimore Couple Sues Government for Turning Green Card Interview into a Trap

— October 18, 2019

Alyse Sanchez’s husband, Elmer, was detained and slated for deportation to Honduras mere moments after an immigration official said he’d passed a marriage interview needed to get a green card.

A recently-filed lawsuit claims that immigrants hoping to marry American citizens are being tricked into fake green card eligibility interviews, after which they’re detained and deported.

The Associated Press shares the story of Alyse and Elmer Sanchez. According to the A.P., the two were thrilled to walk away from their “green card” interview with a tentative approval. Since passing is such an integral part of obtaining lawful residency in the United States, Alyse was elated: she texted her family, saying an official had deemed her marriage legitimate.

But moments after walking outside, Elmer was stopped, handcuffed and slated for deportation back to Honduras.

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

Elmer and Alyse Sanchez have joined at least five other couples in a class action. Together, they’ve accused federal agents of using marriage interviews as a means to detain and deport undocumented immigrants engaged or married to U.S. citizens.

The Associated Press notes that federal provisions let citizens like Alyse try to legalize the status of their spouse. And it’s not an uncommon procedure, either—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have granted tens of thousands of unlawful presence waivers to would-be wives and husbands. The waivers let them leave the United States without hindrance, so that they can return to their home countries and apply for a legal re-entry.

U.S. passport. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Sanchez family and their cohorts, says it’s increasingly common for immigration officials to “cruelly [twist]” ordinary procedure into deportation proceedings.

While the Sanchez’s and their co-plaintiffs are from the Baltimore area, the ACLU is looking into similar cases in Massachusetts. Dozens of post-interview detentions have happened across the country, from New York to Illinois and California.

So far, the ACLU seems to be finding its clients some success. In the Maryland case, U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel has already reversed at least one deportation: that of a Chinese national who was taken away after clearing a marriage interview.

Hazel’s ruling was unambiguous. In it, he said that the government can’t use marriage interviews “as a honeypot to trap undocumented immigrants who seek to take advantage of its protections.”

Alyse and Elmer, reports The Associated Press, met in 2013. They married later in the same year and now have two children together.

Elmer, though, had been ordered in absentia to be deported… all the way back in September of 2005. He says he was never served a notice for his court date and didn’t know he’d already been instructed to leave the country.

When he and Alyse made an appointment for their marriage interview, they were told officials were requiring the meeting “solely to confirm the bona fides of the couple’s” partnership.

ACLU of Maryland attorney Nick Steiner explained that the process is meant to keep families together while one spouse seeks legal residency. But, beginning in 2017, detainments and deportations began randomly occurring.

“Previous practice would allow for 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,” Steiner told The Associated Press in an interview.

Documents obtained in court depositions, and partially recounted by the A.P., suggest that some federal officials regard immigrant spouses as easy targets.

Elmer was released in June—following months in government custody—only after the ACLU intervened to prevent his immediate deportation.


Couple launches class action against Homeland Security for marriage trap interview

Federal agents are using marriage interviews as an immigration trap, lawsuit says

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