A lawsuit that seeks to prevent the deportation of immigrants while they are seeking to become legal U.S. residents through marriage will move forward, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Mark Wolf denied the Trump administration's bid to dismiss the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which contends officials are illegally arresting immigrants married to U.S. citizens when they appear for interviews at government offices.
Wolf said the law doesn't allow officials to deport immigrants simply because they're subject to final removal orders if that immigrant is also seeking a waiver to remain in the U.S. while they try to become legal residents. But there are some circumstances that may justify their deportation, like if the person has committed a crime, Wolf said.
At the center of the case are 2016 regulations that allow certain noncitizen spouses of U.S. citizens to remain in the country while they pursue legal status. The regulations were designed to keep families together and encourage more people to adjust their immigration status.
Legal briefs filed by the ACLU last week that reveal how immigration agencies closely coordinated to arrest immigrants when they showed up for interviews at government officers to do just that.
"The government created a path to lawful immigration status for our clients, and now it is trying to arrest them for following that path," Matt Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts said in a statement following Wolf's decision Thursday. "And we know why: the Trump administration is relentlessly trying to detain and deport many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs to family unity and civil rights. Today, we tell the Trump administration, again: We'll see you in court."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said the coordination between the agencies is lawful. An ICE spokesman said Thursday that it cannot comment because the case is ongoing.
A lawyer for the government told Wolf on Monday that the regulations weren't designed to allow immigrants who have been ordered to leave the country to remain indefinitely while they exhaust all of their legal options. The Trump administration also argued that the court doesn't have jurisdiction over the case.
The ACLU brought the case on behalf of several immigrants including Lilian Calderon, a Guatemalan living in Rhode Island, who was detained for a month after she appeared for a routine interview at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to discuss her marriage.
Calderon, who was brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was 3 years old, was released from detention in February after the ACLU intervened. She became the subject of a final order of removal as a teenager because her father's asylum application was denied.