The Trump administration is illegally detaining and trying to deport immigrants pursuing lawful immigration status who are married to U.S. citizens, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
The lawsuit, filed late Tuesday, says the administration is targeting people for deportation who are following established rules for becoming lawful permanent residents based on their marriages to American citizens.
Among the people named in the complaint is 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.
"It's not fair what's happening to us," the mother of two said Wednesday. "We're just trying to following a process that was implemented."
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of challenges to the Republican administration's aggressive immigration policies.
The ACLU says regulations set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows people like Calderon, who are subject to removal orders but have U.S.-citizen spouses, to stay in the country throughout most of the process of obtaining lawful immigration status.
The rules were designed to keep families together and encourage more people to adjust their immigration status, lawyers say. Now, authorities are targeting people for deportation who are trying to do just that, the ACLU says.
"People should not have to fear they may end in prison merely for trying to play by the government's own policies to address their immigration status," said Steve Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island.
The lawsuit says President Donald Trump's immigration policies are being fueled by "racial animus" against people of color. The ACLU cites, among other things, reports that the president said he preferred more immigrants from Norway, a predominantly white country.
"When you have an administration taking action that prevents people who are entitled under the law to seek their lawful status in order to stay here with their U.S.-citizen family members, you have to ask: Why? Is it because the administration has a view about what kind of people should be entitled to be Americans?" said Adriana Lafaille, an ACLU attorney.
Others named in the complaint include a mother being held in Boston after she and her husband attended an interview to confirm their marriage to get lawful immigration status. Another couple fears going to their interview because the husband could be detained.
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.
She now lives in fear of being deported to a country that she doesn't know, she said.
"How can we provide for our kids in a country that we know nothing of?" she asked.