While putting off a decision until next week, a federal judge raised sharp questions in the case of detained Dreamer Daniel Ramirez Medina, who lost DACA authorization after his arrest.
“Consider the following hypothetical,” said U.S. District Court’s Magistrate Judge James Donohue. “The government sets up a roadblock outside the courthouse. Immigration officers “are stopping anyone who’s driving while brown.”
They detain anyone found to have arrived in the country illegally, even if that person was granted authorization to remain here through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).
Was it the government’s position, Donohue asked Wednesday, that those DACA recipients could not argue in federal court that they had been wrongfully detained?
It was, said Jeffrey Robins, assistant director at the U.S. Department of Justice.
That isn’t the scenario that brought him and a team of lawyers for Daniel Ramirez Medina to a Seattle courtroom for oral arguments Wednesday. But it raised a central question: Can Ramirez, a Dreamer when arrested by immigration officers last month, raise constitutional challenges in district court or must he go through an immigration-court system run by the Justice Department?
Donohue put off answering the question — as well as ruling on whether Ramirez should be released — until early next week. He wanted to hear a response from Ramirez’s lawyers to a last-minute issue of “standing” raised Tuesday in a government filing.
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In the roughly two-hour hearing, Donohue noted the complexity of the case, which affects hundreds of thousands of Dreamers around the country.
At times, the judge asked for clarification on immigration terminology and protocol. What was an “I-213” report, he wanted to know, and is it normal to have more than one?
In this case, the government submitted two such reports, which are written by arresting immigration officers. And there are discrepancies between them, which the judge said concerned him.
One report says the Mexican-born Ramirez, who turns 24 on Thursday, responded “in a sarcastic and disrespectful tone” when asked whether he had any reason to believe he was a citizen.
Tone is not mentioned in the other report. That form also does not say in its chronology of events, as the first one does, that arresting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Matthew Hicks ran “checks at the office” and discovered that Ramirez had received DACA authorization.
The timeline could be important, and arose in Donohue’s inquiry into when agents established probable cause to arrest Ramirez. In the more detailed chronology, the judge noted, it appeared that agents learned the young man was a DACA recipient before they started questioning him about gang affiliation — the reason used to justify withdrawal of Ramirez’s DACA permit and send him to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
The varying reports are one more curious thing about a case involving clashing accounts of Ramirez’s arrest, with the government claiming he admitted gang involvement and the Des Moines man insisting he did not. Ramirez’s attorneys have also claimed detention officials tampered with a note written by Ramirez to make it look as if he was calling himself a gang member.
Even as Donohue pressed Robins over how people could be protected from “rogue” agents if not by a federal-court review, the judge challenged Ramirez’s lawyers on some points. If they were contesting their client’s arrest, weren’t they also contesting the removal of his DACA authorization and placement in deportation proceedings?
Congress has given immigration court purview over removal proceedings, so Ramirez’s lawyers have taken pains to assert they are challenging the constitutional basis of his arrest, rather than fighting removal itself.
Mark Rosenbaum, a California lawyer on Ramirez’s legal team, stuck to his position. He also clarified that he was not seeking reinstatement of Ramirez’s DACA authorization.
Robins earlier said that anyone kicked out of the program must apply again; not even an immigration judge can reinstate DACA.
What he and his colleagues want from federal court, Rosenbaum said after the hearing, is a statement that “DACA provides certain protections”— one that “would reverberate in every community in the country.”