Wall Street Journal
By Alejandro Lazo
March 14, 2017
A beneficiary of an Obama administration program that provides safeguards to undocumented immigrants can challenge his detention in federal court after being picked up by immigration agents last month, a Seattle federal magistrate judge said Tuesday.
Civil rights attorneys have argued that Daniel Ramirez Medina’s Feb. 10 arrest and continued detention were unconstitutional because he is a recipient of benefits under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which offers eligible young adults some protections from deportation and allows them to work.
The case is considered an early test of how President Donald Trump’s administration will treat beneficiaries of DACA, who are known as “Dreamers.”
The government said the young man’s federal court complaint should be dismissed, arguing that his case was the sole jurisdiction of immigration court—a separate legal channel that adjudicates immigration cases and can order deportations or grant permission to stay in the U.S.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge James Donohue said in his recommendation that the court does have jurisdiction for “claims involving pre-removal unconstitutional conduct” and refused to dismiss the case. The issue, he said, is “whether the Court has any meaningful role to play in protecting non-citizens from the excesses of those charged with the enforcement of the immigration laws.”
But the magistrate judge declined to grant a request to release Mr. Ramirez, 24, from custody while the case proceeds. Mr. Ramirez’s attorneys had filed a writ of habeas corpus, a legal mechanism that prisoners have used for hundreds of years to challenge their detention as unlawful. Congress has limited the mechanism’s availability to immigrants who are held pending deportation, but federal courts retain broad jurisdiction to consider claims of constitutional violations.
A federal district judge will have final say on the matter.
The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing the report and recommendation, spokeswoman Nicole Navas said, and will respond by the judge’s March 28 deadline.
The government is continuing to seek Mr. Ramirez’s deportation in immigration court, his lawyers said.
Mr. Ramirez arrived in the U.S. when he was seven and is the father of a 3-year-old son. He was arrested from his apartment building when agents arrived to apprehend his father. Mr. Ramirez qualified for DACA in 2014 and renewed it in 2016. Recipients must apply for a renewal every two years.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have publicly said that Mr. Ramirez is a “self-admitted gang member” and a “risk to public safety.” But Mr. Ramirez’s attorneys say those statements are false and that Mr. Ramirez denies any gang affiliation.
The magistrate judge’s report could serve as an avenue for DACA recipients to challenge their detentions if they find themselves in similar situations, said Theodore J. Boutrous, one of Mr. Ramirez’s attorneys.
“It is a signal to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents and immigration authorities that the courts are watching them—that the courts will step in and protect DACA recipients,” Mr. Boutrous said.
Since DACA was introduced in 2012, about 750,000 people have benefited from the program. Mr. Trump said during the presidential campaign that he would rescind the program, but has since said he would seek a more favorable solution for its beneficiaries.
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