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Beltran v. Cardall

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

November 22, 2016




         In December of 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents detained RMB - a minor - and designated him an “unaccompanied alien child.” RMB was subsequently transferred to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and placed by that agency in “child welfare” custody. His mother - Petitioner Dora Beltrán - attempted to secure his release to her care. When ORR refused to release her son, she filed the instant Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus.

         On August 5, 2015, this Court denied the Petition and Petitioner appealed. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the judgment in part, vacated it in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court is now tasked with applying the test set out in Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976), to determine whether ORR's family reunification procedures afforded RMB and Petitioner due process of law. The Court concludes that they did not. Accordingly, the Court will grant the Petition and order RMB's release.

         I. Background

         A thorough description of the facts of this case may be found in this Court's prior opinion, D.B. v. Poston, 119 F.Supp.3d 472 (E.D. Va. 2015), and in the opinion of the Fourth Circuit, D.B. v. Cardall, 826 F.3d 721 (4th Cir. 2016). The Court therefore recites here only what is germane to its ruling.

         Petitioner and her children entered the United States illegally from Guatemala in 2005, when RMB was six years old. After settling in Rio Bravo, Texas, Petitioner remarried.

         Petitioner's spouse was abusive. As a result, Petitioner applied for and received legal immigration status - and eventually legal permanent residency - through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In February of 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted RMB deferred action as a beneficiary of his mother's VAWA petition. This did not confer legal immigration status upon RMB, but did render his removal from the country a low priority for the federal government.

         RMB had a difficult childhood in Rio Bravo. At 10, he began using alcohol and marijuana. By the time he was 13, he drank heavily. At 14, he was addicted to heroin. See Rep. Exh. 7 [Dkt. 48-7] (“RMB Decl.”) ¶ 8.

         RMB's trouble with the law began at age 12. He was arrested for or charged with criminal mischief, runaway, theft, burglary, assault, possession of marijuana, assault causing bodily injury on a family member, and unauthorized use of a vehicle. Most of these charges were dismissed, although RMB was prosecuted and placed on probation for making a terroristic threat. Four charges - unauthorized use of a vehicle, violation of a court order, possession of marijuana less than two ounces, and assault causing bodily harm - remain pending.

         In July of 2013, Petitioner moved her family from Rio Bravo to Corpus Christi, Texas - a distance of approximately 160 miles. Petitioner hoped that the new environment would improve RMB's behavior. In October of 2013, however, RMB ran away from home and returned to Rio Bravo. Once there, a friend helped RMB to find work smuggling undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs into the United States from Mexico. At the time, RMB was 14 years old.

         RMB attributes his troubles to the influence of older youths who “worked for a cartel.” RMB Decl. ¶ 5. He claims that these individuals “targeted” him, pretended to befriend him, and provided him with the drugs to which he ultimately became addicted. Id. ¶¶ 5-8. As a result, RMB found himself working for the cartel to feed his habit. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. When he attempted to extricate himself from the cartel, two older boys drugged and sexually assaulted him while a third recorded the assault with a cell phone. Id. ¶ 11. According to RMB, it was Petitioner's learning of this incident that prompted their family's move to Corpus Christi. Id. ¶ 12.

         RMB claims further that it was his addiction that forced him to return to Rio Bravo, where he could obtain drugs from the cartel. Id. ¶ 12. He states that he attempted to leave the cartel and return home, but a cartel member drugged him and forced him to watch videos depicting grisly deaths - the clear implication being that this would happen to RMB and his family should he choose to leave. Id. ¶ 15. RMB was therefore forced to remain and continue working for the cartel.

         On December 15, 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested RMB near the Mexican border. He informed one of the agents that he was there to aid in the transportation of undocumented immigrants into the United States. According to RMB, he permitted himself to be captured in an effort to escape the cartel. Id. ¶ 16.

         The agents permitted RMB to contact Petitioner, who assembled her family's immigration documents and began driving to meet her son. One of the agents, however, called Petitioner and advised her that she should turn back and that her son would be sent to a youth shelter. When Petitioner protested, the agent threatened to arrest her.

         Shortly thereafter, U.S. Customs and Border Protection determined RMB to be an “unaccompanied alien child, ” or “UAC” - a minor with no lawful immigration status whose parents are unavailable “to provide care and physical custody.” 6 U.S.C. § 279(g)(2). As such, it transferred RMB to the custody of ORR, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services charged with the care of UACs. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also initiated removal proceedings against RMB, presumably unaware of his deferred status.

         On January 10, 2014, Petitioner submitted a family reunification application to ORR. The agency evaluated the application and ordered a home study, which took place on February 10, 2014.

         On March 12, 2014, Petitioner received a brief letter advising her that her application had been denied. See Exh. G [Dkt. 11-7]. The letter explained that “[p]rior to releasing a child, ORR must determine that the proposed custodian is capable of providing for the child's physical and mental well-being.” Id. Because ORR had determined that RMB “requires an environment with a high level of supervision and structure, ” and it did not “appear . . . that [Petitioner's] home [could] provide the structure and supervision necessary, ” ORR would not release RMB to his mother. Id. The letter further advised Petitioner that she could request reconsideration within 30 days.

         On March 11, 2015, after retaining counsel, Petitioner submitted a request for reconsideration. Several months later, after initiating these proceedings, she received another brief letter denying her request. See Exh. H [Dkt. 11-8]. The second letter largely reiterated ORR's earlier findings, noting that RMB suffers from various behavioral and psychological problems. See id.

         On April 15, 2015, RMB made his first and only appearance in the immigration proceedings initiated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. At the hearing, the immigration judge terminated the proceedings in light of RMB's deferred status.

         One month later, Petitioner filed the instant habeas petition seeking her son's release and naming as Respondents Darryl Poston, Executive Director of Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center;[1] Robert Carey, Director of ORR; and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Petitioner argued that RMB is not a UAC within the meaning of 6 U.S.C. § 279(g)(2), and that his continued detention violates both substantive and procedural due process.

         This Court denied the Petition, and Petitioner appealed to the Fourth Circuit. The Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's judgment as to Petitioner's statutory and substantive due process claims, but remanded the case for this Court to consider her procedural due process claim under the test set out in Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976).

         II. Legal Standard

         “Writs of habeas corpus may be granted by . . . the district courts . . . [but] shall not extend to a prisoner unless . . . [h]e is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241(a), (c)(3); see also Bowrin v. U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 194 F.3d 483, 487 (4th Cir. 1999) (“Since its inclusion in the Judiciary Act of 1789, § 2241 has given district courts jurisdiction to grant writs of habeas corpus to petitioners who are held in custody by the federal government in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2241).

         The district court “shall forthwith award the writ or issue an order directing the respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 2243. “The person to whom the writ or order is directed shall make a return certifying the true cause of the detention.” Id. Ultimately, “[t]he court shall summarily hear and determine the facts, and dispose of the matter as law and justice require.” Id.

         III. Analysis

         In its previous opinion, this Court identified the right at issue in this case as “the alleged right of an alien child who has no available parent, close relative, or legal guardian . . . to nonetheless be placed in the custody of his parent, who cannot, at this time, properly care for his mental and physical needs.” D.B. v. Poston, 119 F.Supp.3d 472, 487 (E.D. ...

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