This Valentine’s Day, the ACLU of Maryland is celebrating the love between Mr. Wanrong Lin, and Ms. Hui Fang Dong, a courageous Maryland couple recently reunited by a federal judge after ICE used an unlawful “bait and switch” strategy to lure them into a meeting with ICE officials offering assistance in the immigration process, then switched tracks and threw Mr. Lin into jail and deportation proceedings.
Hui Fang is a naturalized U.S. citizen from China, and Wanrong is an undocumented Chinese immigrant who has lived peaceably in the United States for more than 25 years. Together, they own a Chinese restaurant in California, Maryland and are fighting to stay together as a family in their home—the United States.
Wanrong and Hui Fang immigrated from the same small town in China, but did not meet until they both had already arrived in the United States. They were on a blind date set up by Wanrong’s uncle, and Wanrong instantly recognized Hui Fang. When Wanrong was a young boy, he would walk by her house every day. When he met her as an adult, there was an instant spark, but because Wanrong lived in Maryland and she lived in North Carolina, they spent the beginning part of their courtship at a long distance, talking only by phone.
Their fondness grew with each passing month, until finally Wanrong mustered the courage to ask Hui Fang’s parents for their blessing to be with their daughter. He was elated when Hui Fang’s parents agreed and supported the couple’s love for each other. They married in 2004, and even after over 15 years of marriage, Wanrong still surprises Hui Fang with sweet gestures. They started a family, and now have three beautiful children.
As an immigrant married to a U.S. citizen, even as an undocumented immigrant, Wanrong may obtain a “Green Card” through a process that begins with a petition to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). As part of that process, couples must come in for a “marriage interview”, where an immigration officer assesses whether the marriage is legitimate, or rather, undertaken for some unlawful purpose. When Wanrong and Hui Fang went into the Baltimore USCIS office and completed their interview with the immigration officer, their petition was approved, and Wanrong was authorized to move forward in the process of getting a Green Card.
But then things went very wrong. Wanrong was brought into a separate room, handcuffed, and thrown into immigration jail. He couldn’t say goodbye to his wife or children, who were in the waiting room while he was being taken away. Wanrong and Hui Fang had been lured into the immigration office to complete a necessary part of the Green Card process, only to have ICE cruelly snatch Wanrong away and separate him from his family.
Wanrong was held in immigration jail for nearly three months, until the ACLU of Maryland went to visit him at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center where he was being held. Suspiciously, at one o’clock in the morning, just a few hours after the ACLU of Maryland first visited Wanrong, ICE transported him to New Jersey to be put on a plane and sent back to China.
Just minutes before he was put on a plane, lawyers from the ACLU of Maryland and Venable LLP learned of his imminent deportation and immediately filed a lawsuit, asking for an emergency order to prevent Wanrong from being deported. The plane took off, but as it winged its way toward Shanghai, Judge George Hazel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland considered the arguments of ICE and the ACLU.
In an extraordinary ruling, shortly before the plane landed in China, Judge Hazel granted the ACLU’s motion, ordering that ICE return Wanrong home to Maryland, and temporarily preventing ICE from removing him again.
Thankfully, Wanrong was reunited with his family on December 14, 2018—just in time for the winter holidays—where he remains to celebrate this Valentine’s Day.
The ACLU and its many supporters will continue to fight for Wanrong and Hui Fang because their fight is not over yet. We will not rest until they, and other immigrants across Maryland, can celebrate love on Valentine’s Day in peace, together with their families.
Happy Valentine’s Day