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ACLU sues Pa. judge for illegally detaining groom on wedding day

A Cumberland County couple's wedding day was temporarily derailed when a judge accused the groom of being in the U.S. illegally. ICE agents confirmed that he was a legal permanent resident.

Cumberland County Magisterial District Judge Elizabeth Beckley presides over Alex Parker's (left) and Krisha Schmick's May 2017 wedding.
Cumberland County Magisterial District Judge Elizabeth Beckley presides over Alex Parker's (left) and Krisha Schmick's May 2017 wedding.Read moreAlex Parker (custom credit) / Contributed photo

This story is part of a collaboration with ProPublica.

The seven months between Alexander Parker’s and Krisha Schmick’s engagement and wedding day were filled with excitement, the prelude to a life and family they couldn’t wait to build together.

The high school sweethearts never imagined their big day could be derailed by a judge’s phone call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But that’s exactly what happened on May 23, 2017, when the couple ventured to a courtroom in Camp Hill, across the river from Harrisburg, where they were to be married by District Judge Elizabeth Beckley.

Parker was born in Guatemala in 1996 and adopted as an infant by a U.S. couple, and is a legal permanent resident. He applied for a green card in 2017, and had an identification card supplied by the Guatemalan consulate with him on his wedding day.

When Parker presented the ID card to Beckley and her staff, the judge allegedly told him he wasn’t free to leave the courthouse and contacted ICE, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

ICE officers soon arrived, ushered Parker into a separate room, and asked about his immigration history while they checked his fingerprints in a scanning device, according to the lawsuit. The investigation was short-lived; the officers confirmed that Parker was a lawful permanent resident and that they had no reason to detain him.

>> READ MORE: In Pennsylvania, it’s open season on undocumented immigrants

The episode was first highlighted in “No Sanctuary,” a 2018 investigation by the Inquirer and ProPublica that found that the Philadelphia ICE field office — which encompasses Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia — was the most aggressive in the country, arresting more immigrants without criminal convictions than any other region, thanks in large part to cooperation from Pennsylvania state police and other members of law enforcement.

In response to the “No Sanctuary” stories, state police recently adopted policies that forbid troopers from asking questions about citizenship during traffic stops, or detaining or arresting foreign nationals for simply being undocumented.

>> READ MORE: For cops who want to round up illegal immigrants, Pennsylvania is a free-for-all

“This should have been the happiest day of Alex and Krisha’s lives,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a news release. “Instead, it turned into a nightmare, because this judge took it upon herself to act like an ICE agent in response to Alex’s national origin and perceived race.”

Beckley did not respond to a message left with her office on Thursday.

After stating that she believed Parker was in the United States illegally, the judge initially refused to preside over his wedding to Schmick. But the couple had already paid a fee, and once Parker was cleared by ICE, they decided to go through with the ceremony.

Beckley apologized, according to the lawsuit, and married them. A few days later, the couple discovered that Schmick was pregnant.

They’ve since moved from Carlisle, Pa., to Kissimmee, Fla., where Parker told a reporter he feels “safer from people like the judge that would try to do anything to have me deported.”