Understanding Daniel Ramirez Medina’s Legal Situation: A Moral Imperative

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.



Understanding Daniel Ramirez Medina’s Legal Situation: A Moral Imperative

For my black law students on the day the U.S. Senate confirmed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as Attorney General of the United States

As a law professor, I engage in scholarship and I teach students. The two aspects are intricately intertwined for me. My teaching is the better for my scholarship and my scholarship is the better for my teaching. My students, individually and as groups, have raw smarts, dedication, and – almost aways – good humor and joy.¬†Jefferson Beauregard Sessions cannot impair my students’ intelligence or their capacity for hard work. But he can, especially for my black students, interfere with their good humor and joy. That is a sin, a shame, a scandal.

Any American with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions’ record on racial justice – civil rights, voting rights, ballot access – simply does not understand and certainly does not care about legal justice in the United States of America. It is intolerable to me that my black law students have to put up with their government officially embracing white supremacism in the United States of America Department of Justice – in the cabinet office for justice! – in 2017. These young women and men have come to study law, the vehicle for operationalizing justice in our country, here in Washington, DC. Now, right around the corner, sits a DOJ headed by a man who demonstrably fails to comprehend legal justice in the U.S. context.

How can that not rob them of joy and good humor?

They are robbed. But joy and good humor can be salvaged and revived even in grueling circumstances. This I do know.

I cannot, individually or immediately, change the personnel in the White House, the Department of Justice, or the Congress. I most certainly can, right now, stoke the enthusiasm of all my students, and especially my black students. I can laugh with them, make them laugh. I can show them the beauty and majesty of law and teach them about the women and men in law who are the antithesis of all that is wanting in Jeff Sessions. I can notice the grace and aplomb shown by my black students in these trying times and applaud them for it.

By cultivating the joy and good humor my black law students carry within themselves, I will be the lucky one. My efforts to bolster their reserves in the face of this wretchedly painful time for legal justice in the U.S. will fortify my own enthusiasm, my own higher spirits. With all my students, but especially with my black students, we will together use our smarts, our tenacity and our great high spirits to further our knowledge of law and to build legal justice in this country and beyond.

For my black law students on the day the U.S. Senate confirmed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as Attorney General of the United States