By Golnaz Fakhimi, Immigrants’ Rights Attorney
May 23, 2017, should have been the best day of Alex Parker and Krisha Schmick’s young lives; it was the day they were getting married. But it turned into a nightmare when a magisterial district judge in suburban Harrisburg summoned federal officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the courthouse to investigate Alex’s immigration status.
Alex, who is 22 years old, was born in Guatemala. When he was a baby, he came to the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident, on the basis of a prospective adoption by an American family. His status has remained the same ever since.
When Alex and Krisha decided to go forward with their wedding plans, the only form of ID that he had at the time was an ID from the Guatemalan consulate. That ID was accepted by officials in Perry County, Pennsylvania, who issued Alex and Krisha a valid marriage license. Perry County did not conduct marriage ceremonies at the time, though.
So Alex and Krisha made an appointment for a marriage ceremony before Magisterial District Judge Elizabeth Beckley in Camp Hill, in Cumberland County. To begin their married lives together, their final task was to say, “I do,” in front of her.
Instead of conducting the ceremony as expected, Judge Beckley had a court officer detain Alex, she inquired into Alex’s immigration status herself, and she refused to accept Alex’s answers about having lawful status. Krisha left in a panic to search for documents at home that confirmed Alex’s status. Alex desperately contacted a caseworker of his from his time in foster care, asking that she please immediately send over those documents to the courthouse. On her end, Judge Beckley called ICE.
Alex and Krisha felt utterly panicked and distraught over what was unfolding. They were afraid that unless they could prove that Alex was here lawfully, not only would they not be married but ICE would rip them apart, lock up Alex in detention, and possibly deport him.
When the ICE officers arrived, they checked Alex’s fingerprints and confirmed that he is, in fact, a lawful resident. Judge Beckley apologized to Alex and Krisha but insisted that Alex would keep having problems like this if he used the consular ID. Krisha and Alex awkwardly went forward with the ceremony, in part, because they had already paid the fee for it.
Today, Alex and Krisha are happily married and living in Florida. And today we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Judge Beckley and the court officer who worked with her on the Parkers’ wedding day. The actions of Judge Beckley and the court officer were unlawful. By holding Alex, they engaged in unreasonable detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Judge Beckley also discriminated against Alex on the basis of his ethnicity and national origin, in violation of Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And she interfered with the fundamental right of Alex and Krisha to get married, which is guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Local law-enforcement officials don’t have authority to enforce civil immigration laws, and, when they try to do so, they throw people’s lives into upheaval and chill other community members from engaging with law enforcement. This hurts public safety in our communities. When local court personnel undertake civil immigration enforcement, the harms can be even more concerning.
This wasn’t the first time Judge Beckley called ICE to report people before her who were getting married. Prior to Alex and Krisha, she had ICE arrest a groom from Tajikistan and his best man.
We’re filing this lawsuit to stop this from happening to any other couple that comes before Judge Beckley or any other judge in Pennsylvania. The freedom to marry is a fundamental right for everyone.