United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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; 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
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.
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).
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.
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. ...