COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — A Maryland resident whose deportation was blocked by a federal judge while he was on a flight to his native China is now asking the same judge to allow him to stay in the country with his family while he seeks to legalize his immigration status.
U.S. District Judge George Hazel scheduled a Friday hearing for Wanrong Lin's request for a preliminary injunction. One of his attorneys says a ruling in his favor could set a helpful precedent for other immigrants fighting deportation orders.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained Lin in August after he showed up for an interview as part of his application for a "stateside waiver," which allows noncitizens facing deportation to remain in the U.S. while seeking legal status. On Nov. 19, they put him on a commercial flight leaving New Jersey for Shanghai. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sued on Lin's behalf only minutes before the plane took off.
Before the flight arrived in China, Hazel ordered Lin to be returned to the U.S. The judge said ICE agents can't use the waiver program "as a honeypot to trap undocumented immigrants who seek to take advantage of its protections."
When Lin returned in December, he was taken into ICE custody after he got off the plane but released several hours later.
Lin, whose wife and three children are U.S. citizens, is asking for more time to stay in the country while he seeks permanent residence. Removing him now will keep him separated from his family for years, his lawyers said in a court filing.
"Mr. Lin is thankful to be back home with his family, but his children are still nervous and he can see the lasting impact of having been arrested and taken away from them for three and a half months, and they worry that he will be taken away from them again," the ACLU attorneys wrote.
U.S. Justice Department lawyers argue the judge doesn't have the jurisdiction to halt Lin's deportation. They also claim Lin and his wife failed to seek an immigrant visa "diligently" and in a timely manner.
"Whatever harm Plaintiffs face is at least in part a result of their own procrastination," government lawyers wrote.
Lin's wife, Hui Fang Dong, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2004, the same year they married. Lin did not, but sought asylum in 2008, a request that was denied and resulted in an order for his deportation. He did not actually leave the country, however, until he was deported in November.
Government lawyers say the immigration court that ordered Lin's deportation in 2008 concluded that "critical portions of (his) testimony were not credible."
In 2016, Lin and Dong began applying for the stateside waiver. As part of the process they went for an interview at a federal immigration office in Baltimore in August to confirm the "bona fides" of their marriage, the ACLU lawyers said. The interviewer told Dong that the validity of their marriage would be confirmed but escorted Lin to a separate room for more questioning.
"Ms. Dong did as requested without concern, thinking the officer was telling her the truth about wanting to further question her husband. Instead, Mr. Lin's lawyer later came out of the room to which Mr. Lin had been escorted and informed her that agents had arrested and detained her husband," his lawyers wrote.
ACLU attorneys claim federal authorities are misusing the waiver process to "lure and entrap" people seeking the program's legal benefits. Hazel ruled in November that Lin's lawyers made a "strong showing" that Department of Homeland Security has had a policy of "generally allowing" applicants for provisional waivers to remain in the U.S.
"To allow ICE_a federal agency under the jurisdiction of DHS_to arrest and deport those who seek this legal protection would be to allow DHS to nullify its own rule without explanation," the judge wrote.
ACLU of Maryland attorney Nick Steiner said the group has heard from others who fear getting arrested if they go to their interviews for the waiver program.
"If we are able to get a good ruling here, I think it will help other people," Steiner said.
Lin and his family live in California, Maryland, and own and operate a restaurant in the St. Mary's County town.
"Mr. Lin has no criminal history and has consistently worked and paid taxes in the United States," his lawyers wrote.
Lin and his wife grew up in the same village in China's Fujian province, but they didn't become a couple until after his uncle arranged for them to meet in 2002, when he was living in Maryland and she was in North Carolina. "Although Mr. Lin had not seen Ms. Dong in many years, he immediately recognized her because he walked by her house every day in China as a child," his lawyers wrote.
Lin's lawyers say his U.S.-born children, now 9, 12 and 14 years old, have been traumatized by their father's sudden absence and ongoing legal troubles. "The couple had no opportunity to plan for childcare or financial support, nor to prepare their children for a prolonged separation or say goodbye," they wrote.