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Senate Democrats Question ICE Arrests of Spouses of U.S. Citizens

Cite examples of separations at USCIS offices

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was cleared on several, but not all, counts against him for corruption by a federal judge. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., was cleared on several, but not all, counts against him for corruption by a federal judge. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Some Senate Democrats are alarmed by what may be a pattern of ICE making arrests when immigrants are conducting routine business at citizenship and immigration services offices.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief Ronald Vitiello, a group of 10 Senate Democrats cited examples of married couples being separated at USCIS facilities when one partner may not have legal status but the other member of the couple is an American citizen.

“Although both couples were legally married, the undocumented spouses in each case had outstanding deportation orders that they were trying to remedy through the appropriate process as prescribed in U.S. law,” the senators wrote. “Ripping apart families and punishing those who are trying to come out of the shadows does not make us safer, nor is it the best use of ICE’s time and resources. Moreover, it sends a chilling effect to other immigrants who seek to adjust their status and therefore must interact with USCIS.”

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey led the letter, which was dated Wednesday and circulated publicly on Thursday.

The prospect of immigrants being arrested for reasons other than pressing national security or criminal considerations at the facilities could be problematic. The senators noted that USCIS is not designed as an enforcement agency.

In fact, the U.S. government used to combine administrative and enforcement functions under the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, but that was resdesigned.

“Immigrants come to USCIS with the expectation that they will be interviewed in good faith. Reports that these interviews have resulted in arrests have instilled fear in undocumented immigrants who now feel increased pressure to remain in the shadows,” the senators wrote. “Therefore, the current practice illustrates the recklessness of the administration’s immigration priorities and contradicts its assertions that it is going after immigrants who are serious criminals.”

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