November 12, 2020

Milbank and Public Counsel Secure Release of Guatemalan Immigrant Detained by ICE After Illegal Deportation


Juan, a 24 year-old Guatemalan immigrant illegally removed from the United States and detained upon return by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) under an unlawful immigration policy, has been released from Michigan county jail after being granted an emergency writ of habeas corpus. This victory, secured by a Milbank pro bono team, Public Counsel and Michigan attorney Stephanie Blumenau, resolves Juan’s years-long legal struggle and clears the path for him to seek permanent residency in the United States.

After enduring a traumatic upbringing in Guatemala characterized by neglect, abandonment and abuse, Juan was placed under his cousin’s guardianship in 2016 by a California court. The court found that the then-20-year-old should not return to Guatemala and he petitioned for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a federal designation that permits immigrant children under the age of 21 who have sought refuge from distressing circumstances such as parental abandonment to become lawful permanent residents and have a pathway to US citizenship.

Unbeknownst to Juan, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) unlawfully altered its SIJS policy to deny and plainly ignore petitions made by 18-to-20-year-olds through California probate courts. A resulting class action lawsuit J.L. et al. v. Cuccinelli, et al. led by Public Counsel won a preliminary injunction against the policy in October 2018, protecting individuals like Juan against removal proceedings. In 2019, DHS and USCIS directly violated the J.L. court order and deported multiple individuals, including Juan, who remained in Guatemala from July 2019 to February 2020, during which he was brutally beaten by gangs. When it came to light that DHS and USCIS had illegally deported these individuals, the J.L. court held the agencies in contempt and ordered them to facilitate the return of the individuals, including Juan.

Even with a court order granting his re-entry, ICE and DHS took Juan into custody at a Michigan county jail upon arrival to the US in March 2020 and attempted to deport him yet again. With the assistance of Milbank and Public Counsel, Juan filed for an emergency writ of habeas corpus and a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stay his removal and grant his release from detention.

After remaining in jail for nine months, on November 10, a Michigan federal court granted Juan’s petition and compelled his immediate release, pointing out that the authorities had failed to produce any argument of a statutory basis for his detention. He has now been reunited with his family in Michigan and will be able to able to apply for adjustment of status and become a lawful permanent resident with a green card.

Milbank senior consulting partner Linda Dakin-Grimm said: “We were incredibly relieved to learn of Juan’s release from detention. Despite his SIJ status, for years Juan has been denied the opportunity to build a life with his family in the United States. This victory sends a clear message that our country’s immigrant children deserve to be protected, respected and treated fairly in the eyes of the law, and we must hold our courts and law enforcement accountable for doing so.”

“The right to one’s liberty is one of the most fundamental human rights. The Government flagrantly sought to deprive Juan of his freedom in violation of the law. Yesterday, true justice prevailed when Juan walked out of jail and was reunited with his family” said Mary Tanagho Ross, senior staff attorney at Public Counsel.

This victory in Juan’s case was achieved by a Milbank pro bono team including Ms. Dakin-Grimm, Litigation associates James Whooley and Chase Beauclair, as well as Mary Tanagho Ross and Sara Van Hofwegan from Public Counsel and Michigan attorney Stephanie Blumenau.