According to The Washington Post, Leandro Arriaga has been in the United States illegally since 2001.
He stayed despite a deportation order and over the past 16 years has made a living fixing and remodeling homes. He also started a family. But the father of four had grown tired of “living in the shadows,” his attorney said.
So last week, he went to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office for his marriage petition interview — the first step to legalize his presence in the United States through his wife, a naturalized citizen. The process, called an I-130 visa petition, is a common way for foreigners to gain legal residency through their relatives or spouses.
But Arriaga was arrested that day, along with four others who also showed up at the USCIS office in Lawrence, Mass. All five have deportation orders, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Though the arrests aren’t unprecedented, legal experts say they are indicative of the Trump administration’s broader view on what counts as high priority for deportation. Adam Cox, an immigration law professor at New York University, said the arrests signify a level of immigration enforcement that is “very different” from that of the previous administration.
Absent serious criminal violations, the five arrests on March 29 in northeastern Massachusetts were less likely to happen in the Obama years, said Hiroshi Motomura, an immigration law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“This is not to say that, under Obama, they absolutely would not have been removed and arrested. That could have happened,” Motomura said. “But there is less bureaucratic constraint now than during Obama, and this means that their arrest, detention and removal is more likely than before.”
According to two former Department of Homeland Security officials, someone like Arriaga — someone who has no criminal history, has been in the country for a long time and whose wife and children are U.S. citizens — would not have been a priority for deportation during the previous administration.