Yale law students notched another success in their battle against a federal immigration agency Wednesday, when the government agreed to drop deportation proceedings against two immigrants.
The agreement settled a lawsuit brought by the two immigrants, Gabriel Villanueva-Ojanama and Sebastian Manuel Castro Largo. The two men, with the help of the law students, had argued that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency broke the law by detaining them after state court had ordered them released.
An ICE spokesman did not respond by press time to a request for comment.
The two men had been arrested in 2011 for separate motor vehicle infractions. Villanueva-Ojanama pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol and was set to be released after serving 30 days in jail. Police had found marijuana and a pipe in his car when they pulled him over. Castro Largo had been arrested for a traffic violation and was set to be released under his own recognizance.
But before the two men walked free, ICE issued a detainer request, calling on local law enforcement to hold them in custody pending an immigration investigation. ICE issued the requests under a program designed to target dangerous immigrants who may be a threat to public safety.
ICE began deportation proceedings against the two men. While the two men fought the deportation order, they also sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Click here to read their complaint.
Yale law students made the argument that the ICE didn’t comply with its own regulations regarding immigration detainers when it ordered the two men held in custody, according to Kendall Hoechst, a Yale law student working on the case. First, the detainer request should have come from local law enforcement, not from ICE, the lawyers argued. The federal government can’t “unilaterally co-opt state resources,” Hoechst said. Second, “ICE did not make a determination that it was impractical or impossible for them to pick them up from local custody before issuing a detainer.”
After the lawsuit was filed, ICE agreed to drop the deportation cases against the two men, in exchange for them dropping their lawsuit against ICE.
ICE could try again to deport Villanueva-Ojanama and Castro Largo, but can’t use the motor vehicle charges to do so, Hoechst said. “ICE can’t pick them up in connection with any of their previous driving offenses and would have to prove both are removable from scratch. However, neither Mr. Villanueva-Ojanama nor Mr. Castro Largo are ICE enforcement priorities.”
News of the settlement came the day after Yale law students helped secure the release of Mark Reid, another man whom the students argued was held illegally by ICE.