CARBONDALE — Diane Speir is an immigration attorney in Carbondale who said she is seeing the effects of one of President Donald Trump’s executive orders take hold in Southern Illinois. She said widening nets are being used to potentially deport immigrants regardless of their legal status.
Almost immediately after taking office, Trump began signing orders, one of which was Executive Order 13768. It created new guidelines for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for how to deal with immigration, specifically targeting people for deportation who are in the country illegally.
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Speir said the order effectively removed what she called a sensible priority system for the removal of aliens in the U.S. One area where she has seen a change in enforcement is regarding those who are here to marry.
Speir explained that immigrants coming to the U.S. for marriage are issued a K-1 visa, which the U.S. Department of State website says is specifically for those intending to marry a sponsoring U.S. citizen.
What happens after the marriage is where things get fuzzy, Speir said.
“One gray area is the fiancé who technically overstays the period of admission, but is still not illegally here so long as he or she married the U.S. citizen in 90 days of entry,” Speir wrote in an emailed statement.
She said the previous United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy has been to permit such spouses to file for adjustment at their convenience — the paperwork is lengthy and complicated, and the previous policy was not to target them for removal.
Further, Speir said there “is no statutory deadline for filing for adjustment of status after such a marriage.”
This hasn’t stopped Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from trying, though. She said the recent move to threaten the spouse of a citizen with removal is “a dramatic change from previous years of consistent policy and practice.”
This change came down earlier this month.
According to a policy memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security dated June 28, “The Federal Government will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' website, these new policies would go into effect Oct. 1.
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“As of Oct. 1, apparently these lawful immigrants are low-hanging fruit being targeted for threats of removal,” Speir said, adding that ICE agents have even targeted one of her clients.
“Prosecutorial discretion, a cornerstone of America’s judicial system for centuries, allowing for the efficient and effective prioritization of cases, is apparently now a thing of the past,” Speir wrote.
What’s more, Speir wrote that becoming more common are interviews between immigrants applying to to transition from the K-1 status to being a legal permanent resident and USCIS officers. She said previously these were somewhat uncommon. In these meetings, she said, questions can be made of legitimate marriages.
“It is troubling to think that if even for some arbitrary or erroneous reason the USCIS adjudicator denies the case during the interview, the spouse, who has no criminal history, would be served with a Notice to Appear and forced into immigration court removal proceedings, possibly even immediate detention,” she said. She emphasized that these are persons here legally.
Sarah Molina is an immigration attorney in St. Louis who is part of a bar association for immigration attorneys in Kansas, Missouri and Southern Illinois. She said Speir brought this local incident up to her group. Molina said this is the first she’s heard of this practice and couldn’t say if this was a one-off incident or the start of a trend.
However, Speir said because of the memo in June, it likely is going to be a trend.
Molina and Speir said it’s not just people with these status issues who are at risk, but many people who have entered the legal system are now at risk, even for minor infractions.
“People who have a speeding ticket are now worried, and I don’t know that we have enough information to say they aren’t going to get kicked out,” Speir said, adding that she doesn’t know of many people who drive and haven’t received a similar ticket.
Speir said there are some basic rights she wants people who could be ICE targets to know.
“You don’t have to admit them to your home,” Speir said, adding, “especially you shouldn’t open your door to them.”
Molina echoed this. She said unless there is a warrant signed by a judge, all persons in the United States, regardless of immigration status, are protected under the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment that guarantees the right to be safe in their homes.
Molina also advised that anyone who has access to an attorney should bring them along before making any statements to immigration officials.
Finally, Speir said she is telling all of her clients who came to the U.S. for marriage to have copies of their marriage certificate handy in case of a stop by ICE agents.