HARRISBURG, Pa. – A Pennsylvania judge who detained a Guatemalan immigrant on his wedding day now faces a federal lawsuit.
Alex Parker, a lawful permanent resident, and his then-fiancee, a U.S. citizen, went to court in Cumberland County in 2017 to get married.
But despite being presented with valid identification, District Judge Elizabeth Beckley ordered a court officer to detain Parker until federal officials could verify his immigration status.
Golnaz Fakhimi, an immigrants’ rights attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says as a local judge, Beckley has no authority to enforce federal immigration law and her actions violated Parker’s constitutional rights and federal law.
“Unlawful detention in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, unlawful discrimination in violation of the 14th Amendment and civil rights law, and unlawful interference with the fundamental right to marry in violation of the 14th Amendment,” Fakhimi states.
After ICE verified Parker’s immigration status, Judge Beckley reportedly apologized to Parker and his fiancee and performed the ceremony.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Fakhimi notes there are reports of similar actions against immigrants appearing before civil courts in Montana and California. She adds that when the issue is marriage, the law is clear.
“In this country, regardless of whether you have lawful immigration status or not, you have this fundamental right to be married,” she stresses. “And so, his immigration status shouldn’t have come into any of this.”
Fakhimi says when local judges take it upon themselves to act as enforcers of federal immigration law, it has harmful consequences that extend far beyond those who are the immediate targets of those actions.
“It discourages other community members from using our local courts, from contacting local law enforcement even if they’ve been the victim of a crime, and the overall effect is that it hurts public safety,” she stresses.
The lawsuit was filed last Thursday. Parker and his wife now live in Florida