In court Tuesday, the acting Boston field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Todd Lyons, made a surprising revelation about who is responsible for arresting immigrants at their interviews seeking legal status.
He pointed the finger at the Lawrence office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where five people were arrested in March 2017 when they appeared for scheduled appointments.
The testimony came in another day of a legal challenge from the ACLU of Massachusetts, which has accused ICE and USCIS of purposely scheduling citizenship interviews to "trap" immigrants who are in the country illegally and are married to U.S. citizens, seeking legal residency.
According to an email introduced into evidence Tuesday, ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., had been asking the Boston office why the arrests were happening at these interviews.
Evidence presented in court papers and testimony revealed that USCIS was setting up interviews with people who were in the country illegally; the agency would then ask ICE to arrest them.
Lyons said USCIS has continued to notify ICE about these interviews but that ICE has not arrested anyone since February.
Lyons said Boston is now one of the few ICE offices where agents do not automatically detain people who have been ordered deported.
Attorneys for the ACLU of Massachusetts and the law firm WilmerHale argued that people should not be arrested when federal regulations give them a path to becoming lawful residents.
"We think the violations of law are very clear and that there is a strong presumption in our country that the courts can review and rectify that action," said Adriana Lafaille, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Back in May, Lyons told the court he would focus on arresting people who pose a danger to national security or public safety. After he made those remarks, Washington sent someone else to take over the office for two months.
In that time, one person was arrested at his house even though he had no criminal history, and ICE employees told two people to buy one-way tickets to their countries of origin, even though a federal judge had issued a protective order against their deportation.
"Our clients' rights continue to be violated, and that's why we don't think our clients will be safe to pursue this path to getting their green cards unless there is an order in place that protects them from being unfairly targeted for arrest while they are doing that," said Matt Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Ever since WBUR first reported earlier this year that people were being arrested when they showed up at immigration interviews in Lawrence, the focus has been on ICE.
Judge Mark Wolf has said in court he's inclined to find that he has jurisdiction in this case. If he decides he does have jurisdiction, Wolf will decide whether the case can proceed.
This segment aired on August 22, 2018.