In a growing number of cases around the country, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has adopted a novel and reprehensible approach to apprehending potentially deportable immigrants: seizing them during the marriage interview component of their immigration application process. In other words, when they are seated in front of an examiner with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), demonstrating that their marriage to a U.S. citizen is valid and thereby qualifying them for legal status, ICE agents take them into custody. Rather than reserving this heavy handed tactic for dangerous people who pose some risk to the community, thus far the agency has used this strategy to lock up people who, if the interview were to continue, would be approved for a green card, but who – at that moment – were without legal status, despite the fact that they were trying to acquire said legal status in the interview.
The fact that this new ICE policy is directly at odds with USCIS policies — even though both agencies belong to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — is evidence of a growing dysfunction within the agency and disturbingly high level of tolerance of cruelty for the immigrants being ensnared by ICE. In fact, this catch-22 arrangement motivated the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a class-action lawsuit in April against President Trump and various DHS and ICE officials demanding that immigrants be protected from detention and deportation when they are following the rules set forth by USCIS to apply for legal status. After all, showing up for the marriage interview is required!
This new practice is part of an ongoing disregard for longstanding ICE policy limiting enforcement actions in certain “sensitive locations,” such as schools, churches, and hospitals, as well as “any organization assisting children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse, or individuals with significant mental or physical disabilities.” This policy notwithstanding, ICE agents have conducted arrests outside of churches and in front of schools. They have also declared courthouses to be fair game as well, even when the arrestee is there seeking a restraining order against an abuser. If cases such as these do not qualify as “sensitive” in the estimation of ICE agents, it should come as no surprise that ICE has now chosen to target the offices of USCIS, a fellow agency within DHS.
At the broadest level, ICE has simply stopped prioritizing who it pursues, and how it allocates its resources. Rather than trying to focus resources primarily on those who may be actual threats to public safety, ICE agents are simply apprehending any possibly-deportable immigrants in their line of sight. This is not just ineffective law enforcement, it is needlessly inhumane. It is also ludicrous to be arrested by a federal agency for following the rules of another federal agency.
Every American should denounce this obscene manipulation, and urge Congress to follow suit.