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The Seattle "Dreamer" may go free, but immigration activists might have already lost

After nearly two months of court battles, Daniel Ramirez Medina will soon walk free, but his case’s future — and what it means for the thousands of other people in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA— remains uncertain.

Ramirez, who immigrated illegally to the United States as a child and later received protection under the DACA program, was granted bond by a Seattle-area immigration court Tuesday afternoon, according to a statement by his legal team. The team’s spokesperson did not know exactly when Ramirez, who has no criminal record, will be released from detention.


But the fact that Ramirez had to have an immigration court hearing may actually be a loss for his legal team, who had originally sought to keep the case in federal district court. In a brief filed in early March, his lawyers argued that Ramirez is not fighting deportation but an unconstitutional arrest and detention. So federal district court, not immigration court, is the only place that can judge his case’s constitutional complications — and potentially set precedent for the 750,000 other DACA recipients in the U.S.

Following a March 8 hearing, a magistrate judge recommended the case stay in federal district court, and Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez is still deciding if that will happen. But in a Friday ruling, Martinez found that even if Ramirez’s arrest and detention were found likely to be unconstitutional, the federal district court still wouldn’t have the authority to release him.

So Ramirez’s legal team hastily arranged the hearing. “Daniel has been in detention for almost two months,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a member of Ramirez’s legal team, in a statement. “We are relieved that he will be released and look forward to arguing the merits of this case in federal court.”

When applying for DACA, potential recipients hand the government personal information and undergo background checks because they’ve been promised immunity from arrest or deportation due to their immigration status, Ramirez’s lawyers argued in a February brief. For the government to grant them DACA, only to turn around and detain them anyway, is unconstitutional.


Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School, said going to the federal district court first was “a novel approach.” Only after people exhaust all of their options in immigration court system are they generally allowed to take their case to federal district court, he explained. But that can take months or even years — the federal immigration court system currently faces a backlog of 540,000 cases.

“I’m glad that they tried, and this appears that they failed in this particular case, but maybe in another case a judge will rule in favor of a non-citizen,” Yale-Loehr said, following Martinez’s Friday ruling.

Ramirez was first arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents back in February, during a visit to his father. The agents, who were originally looking for his dad, asked Ramirez if he was in the country legally.

Ramirez said yes. The agents still took him to a detention facility south of Seattle, where he has remained ever since.

Martinez’s ruling also highlighted how Ramirez’s own argument is at least partially responsible for his lack of freedom. “He has placed himself in the tenuous position of arguing that his arrest and detention have violated his constitutional rights,” Martinez wrote, “while also asserting that he is not challenging the revocation of his DACA status or ‘anything that has to do with the removal proceedings themselves.’”

“[Ramirez] was probably in some part forgoing his own personal freedom to seek, to help out other detainees not have to endure this kind of unconstitutional treatment,” said Holly Cooper, co-director of the University of California Davis School of Law’s Immigration Law Clinic, before it was announced that Ramirez had been granted bond. Cooper said many of her clients often feel the same way, but because so few detainees have experienced lawyers, they’re often not able to push legal boundaries and fight for their rights in unorthodox ways as Ramirez has.

“It’s rare because most detainees do not have the legal team that this Mr. [Ramirez] has,” she explained, adding, “He deserves that, but everybody does.”