Various branches of the federal government worked in tandem to time interviews with migrants in order to arrest and sometimes deport them more expeditiously, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts alleges in a lawsuit.
Emails made public Monday as part of the lawsuit that the ACLU filed against Department of Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen show that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services communicated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to schedule interviews with undocumented immigrants seeking legal status in such a way that would prevent the public from finding out about the arrests. The plaintiffs are immigrants who were handed orders of removal but are seeking legal status through their citizen spouses.
“These were coordinated arrests,” Matthew Segal, one of the lawyers for the ACLU, told The Boston Globe. “And the marriage interviews that our clients had to go through were in fact set-ups.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is representing the federal government in the lawsuit, declined to comment to the Globe. ICE also declined comment and USCIS had yet to respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
One of the emails shows ICE officer Andrew Graham writing to a USCIS staffer last October about conducting the interviews and subsequent arrests en masse.
“As far as scheduling goes, I would prefer not to do them all at one time as it is [not] only a strain on our ability to transport and process several arrests at once, but it also has the potential to be a trigger for negative media interests, as we have seen in the past,” he wrote.
Information uncovered by documents and depositions shows USCIS actively coordinated with ICE to schedule and facilitate arrests at USCIS offices.
Learn more about the case and read the latest filing: https://t.co/WIHui6TbgN#FamiliesBelongTogether pic.twitter.com/aXPMEYWQfu
— ACLU Massachusetts (@ACLU_Mass) August 13, 2018
ICE argued in the emails that it reserves the right to arrest those with final removal orders, immigration lawyers told the Globe. So far this year, 17 such people have been detained across New England, ICE said.
“CIS completes the interview while our officers are en route,” Graham wrote. “In my opinion, it makes sense for us to arrest aliens with final removal orders as they represent the end of the line in the removal process. They are typically the easiest to remove . . . and at the end of the day we are in the removal business and it’s our job to locate and arrest them.”
Both agencies are under fire for playing a part in the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which namely has included the mass separation of children from their parents at the border. The ACLU has filed several lawsuits against the administration for a variety of offenses, including withholding the phone numbers of parents waiting to be reunited with their children from lawyers and denying asylum to victims of gang or domestic violence.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.