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

What happens when federal litigation on related questions booms-as now with Trump executive orders

(Warning: this is a primer, oversimplifications ahead.)

Various people have brought different lawsuits against Donald Trump and his administration, claiming the unconstitutionality and illegality of Trump’s executive orders restricting travel, colloquially known as “the Muslim ban.”  Because these lawsuits raise federal constitutional questions and claim Trump has violated federal statutes, the cases have all been brought in federal court. But there isn’t just one big “federal court.” There is the federal court system. It has both a horizontal and a vertical dimension.  Horizontally, the federal judicial system is divided into circuits and then sub-circuits. When a plaintiff sues in federal court, she starts in a trial court in a particular sub-circuit. Which one usually depends upon either where she resides or where the injury she is alleging happened. When a cause of harm manifests in many places-like a nationwide ban on immigration ordered by the President-it often triggers multiple suits, each one brought by a different plaintiff or group of plaintiffs seeking relief for the specific injury the harmful conduct has caused her or them. Because of differences in the factual circumstances and differences in the legal theories each plaintiff sues upon, the initial trial court decisions at the horizontal level will vary in meaning even if all of them temporarily restrain the governmental action in question.

As trial court orders are appealed, the vertical dimension of the federal judicial system kicks in. A federal district court judge’s decision can be appealed. If it is, the case is generally reviewed by a panel or subset of that district’s appellate judges. For example,  a decision of the court in the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, can be appealed to the Ninth Circuit (not every trial court order or decision is immediately appealable, but for purposes of this discussion, I am oversimplifying). When that subset or panel rules, the losing party can request review of the entire group of appellate judges for the circuit (en banc). Finally, a party who loses a case upon en banc review can petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no right to Supreme Court review. The Court decides whether to take any given case.

In a situation like the current one, where the losing party (Trump in his official capacity and the Executive Branch officials implementing the orders) is the same across the original trial court orders, whether and which vertical next moves are made are the choice of the losing party. The Department of Justice, which represents the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, has to decide which orders to appeal, considering the content or significance of an individual case and the likelihood of winning on appeal. So far, Trump’s DOJ has fought, and won, one effort to renew a TRO (not an appeal of the original TRO), in Massachusetts; and today has decided to appeal the most wide-reaching and, in my opinion, forceful ruling staying the executive orders, which was issued in Seattle, by the Judge James Robart of the Western District of Washington State. Judge Robart had scheduled argument as to whether to make the temporary restraining order permanent, but since the Executive Branch has decided to appeal the temporary order those arguments may be postponed.

Meanwhile, the government may file appeals in other cases in circuits other than the Ninth , and the plaintiffs in Massachusetts (who lost the renewal of the TRO) may decide to appeal that ruling. If there are simultaneous appeals proceeding vertically, the different circuits could end up with different results on the constitutionality or legality of the Executive Orders, in what is called a circuit split. Sometimes the Supreme Court decides to consolidate several appeals from the circuits to resolve a split, sometimes the Court chooses one case because deciding it would effectively decide the split, and in some instances (though certainly not this one), the Supreme Court does not resolve a circuit split, meaning that the opinions of the appellate courts in each circuit control the law in that circuit.

Scholars and analysts have much to say about the pros and cons of the horizontal and the vertical dimensions of the federal judiciary. Setting aside these larger debates, what matters for now is whether there will be a relatively quick decision at the appellate level of any circuit and then whether the loser will appeal the case to the Supreme Court and then whether the Supreme Court takes that case or waits to see what, if any, splits or consensus emerges among the various circuits.

Should Trump withdraw the Executive Orders or should Congress take action to negate them, the current wave of lawsuits would stop or stall. The federal courts would not become involved again unless or until the Executive promulgated new orders which could be litigated or the Executive chose to challenge the constitutionality of any Congressional action that might be taken.

What happens when federal litigation on related questions booms-as now with Trump executive orders