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Leandro Arriaga is a construction worker, a property owner and the father of four children. He's also been living in the United States without authorization since 2001. His wife, Katherine Ramos, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and said her husband wanted to change his legal status. That's what ultimately got him arrested last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
Arriaga was detained in Lawrence while beginning the application for a green card. The first step in what's called the I-130 process was a marriage petition interview, common for immigrants seeking legal residency through familial ties. Ramos said the interview at the federal immigration office in Lawrence went well. And then her husband was called back in to speak with immigration agents.
"[Immigration officials] call lawyer and my husband only," Ramos said. "And my husband don't come back. The lawyer come alone and give his wallet and belt to me."
Arriaga and Ramos are both originally from the Dominican Republic and have been living with one another in Lawrence since 2012. They married two years ago and have a 3-month-old baby girl named Jade.
Arriaga was ordered to leave the country voluntarily when he first arrived in 2001 but he chose to say without documentation which eventually led to an order to be forcibly deported. Ramos says she and her husband understood the risks associated with pursuing the process for legal permanent residency but her husband was tired of living in the shadows.
Speaking in Spanish, Ramos said her husband didn't want to be undocumented any longer.
"He has children and he doesn't have a criminal record, he does everything right...he is a good person, he is a hard worker and a good father," Ramos said.
ICE says all of those arrested last week at the Lawrence U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office had final orders to be deported.
Immigration advocates and lawyers say detaining immigrants who are applying for residency signals a shift in enforcement priorities under President Trump.
Zoila Gomez is one of Arriaga's attorneys and said that in her 11 years of practicing immigration law, this is the first time she has ever had a client detained at a USCIS interview.
"During President Obama, this was not the policy. The policy was that when people were trying to legalize their process, that they would not be detained at their I-130 interview," Gomez said.
In 2014, Obama established immigration enforcement priorities focused on "deporting felons not families," among other things. Deportations under Obama did rise in the early years of his presidency but dropped toward the latter years.
Gomez worries that her client's arrest reinforces fear among immigrants living in the country illegally.
"[Arriaga] was trying to do what was right and he was trying to get a green card," Gomez said. "And although it's difficult and most people like him wait so long to do it, it's because they're afraid. 'So now I apply, what happens? Am I going to be detained? And I'm going to be locked up?' So, what happened to him is the ultimate fear that every person has."
Gomez is seeking to suspend Arriaga's deportation but for now he's being held at the Bristol County House of Corrections.
This segment aired on April 3, 2017.
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