Is Citizenship and Immigration Services Conspiring With ICE?

The American Civil Liberties Union claims that a key federal immigration agency is colluding with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to “entrap” people who arrive for routine immigration appointments.

The civil rights firm is using the case of Lilian Calderon, a woman who was arrested by ICE while she was trying to apply for a green card, as the basis for impact litigation to challenge a practice that allegedly violates “constitutional rights to due process and federal immigration laws.”

While you may have heard a lot about ICE lately, it’s not the only government agency involved in immigration issues. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, is the agency that actually handles applications for immigration and residency documents; if you want a green card, for example, you have to work with USCIS throughout the process, which includes background checks, a series of interviews and other procedural matters to confirm eligibility and issue documentation.

In Calderon’s case, she arrived in the United States undocumented as a child, and she was working towards a green card with help from her husband, a US citizen. Initially, the process went well; officers were friendly, and it seemed like her application was proceeding as expected. But then ICE showed up, and the agency started to initiate deportation proceedings – which are currently on hold while the ACLU case works its way through the courts.

According to the ACLU, ICE’s appearance was no accident. The USCIS allegedly coordinated with ICE to alert officials when undocumented people scheduled appointments, making it possible for ICE agents to pick them up at the time of their appointment. The agency would generate a list of people who might be eligible for deportation and send it over to ICE, which would then return a list of people it was interested in picking up.

Worse yet, the ACLU claims, USCIS actually coordinated schedules and calendars with ICE, rescheduling interviews when ICE agents weren’t able to attend, or when they were concerned that timing might attract media attention. This kind of coordination goes well beyond a “friendly tip” from one agency to another — and even “friendly tips” are the subject of criticism from people concerned about civil liberties.

If undocumented people fear turning up at USCIS interviews, it’s impossible for them to pursue a legal path to residency or citizenship, effectively forcing them permanently underground and criminalizing people who want to do “the right thing.”

ICE, meanwhile, freely admits that it works with USCIS, but insists this is perfectly normal — and even necessary. The agency is just doing its job, you see.

This situation highlights the lie behind “why can’t they just follow the law?” People who want to become legal residents or citizens are trying to comply with the law, even though it’s labyrinthine, confusing and racist. But when they attempt to do so, they’re being caught up in sting operations like this one — and awareness of practices like this spreads quickly through immigrant communities.

A betrayal of trust can have long-term consequences; certainly immigrants in the Boston area, where Calderon was picked up, are going to be much more hesitant about trusting government officials.

That doesn’t just include USCIS. When representatives of the government turn into enemies, it discourages people from reporting crimes to law enforcement, or whistleblowing about health and safety violations to government agencies charged with protecting the public interest. The ripple effect of this case could have a lasting reach.