Many people will have to learn about unfamiliar legal issues and institutions in order to understand what is happening to Daniel Ramirez Medina, the immigrant enrolled in DACA who was arrested, without a warrant or apparent probable cause on February 10, and is currently being detained by ICE, which has initiated deportation proceedings against him. Because Daniel exemplifies the problem of the most vulnerable being acted upon by the most powerful government in the world we all must understand what is happening here. Those of us who live in the U.S. and are not detained by our government must decide whether and how to stand with Daniel.
Here is Daniel’s legal situation in brief: today, February 17, 2017, a U.S. federal district court held a status conference in the case of Daniel Ramirez Medina v. the Department of Homeland Security, et al (CASE NO. 2:17-CV-00218-RSM-JPD). The district court could have required Daniel’s immediate release from government detention, but it did not. Instead the district court ruled a U.S. immigration court should proceed with Daniel’s deportation hearings, starting with a bond hearing by February 24. If Daniel remains in the country and in government custody in March, the district court will consider again whether it has jurisdiction to consider the legal merits of his detention; if the district court accepts jurisdiction it will decide whether Daniel’s detention is lawful.
Let’s break that down.
The federal judicial branch consists of courts independent of the executive and legislative branches. But these courts are not the only courts our country has. Various tribunals are set up within the executive branch and have jurisdiction over issues not reserved to the judicial branch. Immigration courts are like that: they have specific powers related to immigration. Chief among them is the authority to decide whether an immigrant in the U.S. should be deported. Unlike federal courts, immigration courts cannot decide questions of constitutional law.
Daniel’s attorneys contend that his original arrest was unlawful and unconstitutional. As a person enrolled in DACA, they argue, he was in the U.S. legitimately and had constitutionally protected rights protecting him from being summarily detained and deported. The U.S. government has not yet had to address these arguments because, upon his arrest, they stripped Daniel of his DACA enrollment and therefore his work permit, and initiated deportation proceedings against him. Those deportation proceedings take place in an immigration court.
A person in the midst of deportation proceedings may be eligible for release from custody while these are ongoing, and the federal district court today directed Daniel to seek a bond hearing in immigration court. The district court also instructed that this hearing be held within a week, that is, not later than February 24.
If the immigration court orders Daniel released while deportation proceedings take place, his demand for habeas corpus will most likely become irrelevant, or in technical parlance, moot. If he is not deported, he might eventually be in a position to bring a lawsuit against the government for having detained him unlawfully, either as a matter of wrongful imprisonment or as a violation of his Fifth and Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. constitution. If he is deported, it is extremely unlikely the merits of his detention will ever be addressed.
However the immigration court rules on the question of Daniel’s deportation, the federal district court judge will not review that determination. Immigration court orders are reviewable but primarily within the executive branch system. Either side may appeal a deportation order to the Board of Immigration Appeals. If BIA rules in favor of the immigrant, the government has no right to appeal further; if it rules in favor of the government, the immigrant may seek review in federal appellate court. Right now, it is too early in the process to know what legal issues will remain open after an immigration court’s decision on Daniel’s deportation. It is even too early to say with precision what issues of fact and issues of law will be determinative in the initial deportation decision itself.
What is clear right now is that a person who was enrolled in a government sponsored program for immigrants was summarily arrested and remains detained seven days later, and probably will stay detained for at least another seven days. Daniel will spend up to fourteen days in government custody without any judicial attention to the merits of the validity of his imprisonment. That plain, hard truth is what makes understanding Daniel Ramirez Medina’s legal situation incumbent on all of us.