The Court Fight Over A Detained DREAMer Could Have A Major Effect On All DACA Holders' Rights

The lawyers challenging Daniel Ramirez Medina's detention are asking a federal court to issue an order barring the federal government from detaining DREAMers on the basis of their immigration status.

WASHINGTON — Daniel Ramirez Medina has been in a detention center since Feb. 10, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to arrest someone else at his house and, finding Ramirez there, arrested him as well — despite the fact that he had been granted relief under the Obama administration as a DREAMer.

On Friday, however, Ramirez’s lawyers asked a federal court to hold a hearing as soon as Tuesday on a request to release him while the legal questions in his case can be resolved.

[Update at 1:50 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, 2017: Magistrate Judge James Donohue denied the request for an expedited hearing, meaning Ramirez will not have a chance to be released by the federal court until the next hearing, which is scheduled for March 8.]

“Mr. Ramirez is a DACA holder—and thus considered lawfully present in the United States,” the lawyers wrote in Friday’s filing, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “He has not been convicted of, or charged with, any crime, but has already been in detention for over two weeks.”

The lawyers allege that the federal government's actions in Ramirez's case have violated his Fourth Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights.

While the case only directly involves the facts of Ramirez’s detention, it quickly could become a case over the contours of the rights of all DACA holders in the country — an issue that President Trump and senior White House officials have acknowledged is a difficult one even for the president's hardline immigration position.

That's because the lawyers behind the Ramirez challenge have a bigger aim: a federal court order that would guarantee due process rights to all DREAMers who have been approved for the DACA program.

To understand how this could happen (or not happen), it's important to understand the the specifics of the Ramirez case and the legal actions at play, and what will happen next this week.

Federal officials have defended Ramirez’s detention, alleging that he is affiliated with a gang — a contention strongly disputed by Ramirez’s lawyers. (Neither side says that Ramirez was involved in any gang-related activity at the time of his arrest.) Nonetheless, he was arrested and has been detained since then at the Northwest Detention Center pending deportation proceedings.

The lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the detention on Feb. 13, seeking a writ of habeas corpus — a move that would result in his release, if successful. The federal court denied an initial request on Feb. 17 to release Ramirez immediately, instead directing that he have a bond hearing before an immigration judge.

Earlier this week, Ramirez’s legal team — a high-profile set of 17 lawyers that includes nonprofit advocates, big law firm partners, and constitutional law scholars — went back to the federal court (rather than an immigration judge) and asked the court to release Ramirez while his case is proceeding. Notably, they write that they have made the request, in part, because they allege that the gang-related claims by the government have put Ramirez at risk in detention.

The lawyers also filed a brief with the court at the same time detailing why, in their view, the district court has jurisdiction to hear Ramirez’s case. The Justice Department maintains that the matter should be confined to proceedings before an immigration court, which actually is an administrative arm of the Justice Department itself.

The day after the filings from Ramirez’s lawyers, the magistrate judge overseeing the case in the federal court, James Donohue, ordered the government to respond to the request by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday — when the Justice Department’s brief asking the court to dismiss the case due to lack of jurisdiction also is due.

Once that brief is in, Ramirez’s lawyers want the court to resolve, at the least, the preliminary question of whether Ramirez can and should be released conditionally while his case is resolved.

“The continued detention with dangerous criminals, of a lawfully present individual, who has no criminal record and has not been charged with any crime, is particularly unsafe and alarming and should be remedied immediately,” the lawyers argue.

But the lawyers, in the underlying request for Ramirez's release, also bring the larger implications for all DREAMers who applied for DACA into focus.

“Leaving Mr. Ramirez in detention signals that arresting and detaining a Dreamer without probable cause or reasonable suspicion is permissible, potentially putting all DACA holders at risk,” the lawyers note.

In the amended petition filed in the case this past week, the lawyers ask for a declaratory judgment that DREAMers "have constitutionally-protected interests in their status conferred under DACA," that "arbitrary arrest and detention violates" DREAMers' due process rights, and that the federal government does not have the authority to arrest DREAMers "on the basis of their immigration status."

It is in this context that the Justice Department is fighting to keep Ramirez’s case out of federal court and in its own administrative courts.

In Friday’s filing, Ramirez’s lawyers were rather direct in their legal reasons for aiming to keep the case out of immigration court, rather than the federal court. They wrote that they “could find no way to ensure that this Court’s review of any determination by the Immigration Court would be ‘de novo,’ rather than for ‘clear error.’” "Clear error” is a deferential review, whereas “de novo” review would mean the federal court would not need to defer to the immigration court. In other words, which standard of review ultimately happens could lead to a significantly different review of the case.

As the lawyers for Ramirez put it, “Given the critical factual and legal issues to be determined—and their importance both to Mr. Ramirez’s liberty and the status and well-being of hundreds of thousands of other DACA holders and their families — this Court should determine these matters in the first instance.”

The larger issue, though, that the lawyers note is the fact that the underlying constitutional allegations cannot be resolved by the immigration courts. Those questions — sure to be heavily disputed by both sides — eventually would have to be resolved in federal court, and the lawyers for Ramirez note that they "could find no way to ensure that—once the case started down [the immigration court] path—it would be returned to this Court (where the important constitutional questions presented must be determined) in a timely manner." (The backlog in immigration courts is an ongoing concern that has raised questions for Trump's immigration enforcement plans.)

On Monday, the Justice Department will present its argument that Ramirez’s case should be dismissed from federal court and, in the alternative, that he should not be released while the habeas petition is being considered.

The magistrate judge, Donohue, has not yet responded to the request for a hearing. As of now, however, the next hearing in the case — on the government's motion to dismiss the petition — is not set to take place until March 8.

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