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Judge hands Valentine's Day gift to Maryland spouses under deportation orders

Judge George Hazel orders ICE to stop seizing and deporting spouses when they turn up for marriage interviews.

GREENBELT, Md. — Just in time for Valentine's Day, a big legal victory for some Maryland couples.

A federal judge on Monday morning ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop deporting immigrants who have turned up for marriage interviews.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused ICE of "bait and switch," luring immigrants to interviews to see if their marriages to U.S. citizens were legitimate, and then seizing and deporting them.

"I was just destroyed," Alyse Sanchez of Frederick said. "I didn't know what my life was going to be like without my husband." 

"I'm not going to abandon my wife," Elmer Sanchez said.

U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel, in Greenbelt, called ICE's actions in the Sanchez case "arbitrary and capricious." He issued a preliminary injunction in their case, as well as the cases of five other couples, and the entire class of couples who are applying for marriage waivers from deportation.

Trump Administration lawyers had argued the judge had no jurisdiction in the case and asked him to dismiss the lawsuit. He declined to do that. We're still waiting for a response from ICE to the preliminary injunction.

Credit: ACLU
ICE arrested, detained and prepared to deport Elmer Sanchez of Frederick, Maryland when he and his wife Alyse showed up for an interview to prove their marriage was legitimate.

The Sanchez' were married in 2013, eight years after Elmer Sanchez had been ordered removed from the U.S. and sent back to Honduras. The home remodeling contractor had failed to turn up for a hearing, but the judge said he never got notice that hearing was scheduled. The couple has two children.

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On May 7, 2019, a Customs and Immigration Services interviewer agreed that their marriage was legitimate, but ICE arrested and detained Sanchez anyway, holding him for more than a month, before finally releasing him in the face of the ACLU lawsuit.

The ACLU is also suing ICE on behalf of Wanrong Lin and Hui Fang Dong of southern Maryland. ICE put Lin on a plane back to Shanghai in 2018, after he turned up at its office for a marriage interview. 

While the plane was in the air, Hazel ruled ICE had violated its own rules, and once he landed, he ordered the government to bring him back.

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The Department of Homeland Security enacted a rule in 2013 that allows immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens to apply for "provisional unlawful presence waivers." Many married immigrants have had to return to their home countries and wait for years for a visa that would allow them to reunite with their families in the U.S.

Hazel said by seizing immigrants during marriage interviews, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security has, "taken a rule that was promulgated for one purpose and used it for the opposite purpose."

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