On a day in late February, Luis Juarez noticed an SUV parked down the street from his parents’ house. He tried to dismiss his worries—maybe, he told himself, it was just someone visiting a neighbor.
Then the car pulled closer, and he saw that it was a government vehicle.
“My heart sank,” Juarez wrote in a legal declaration filed last week, “and I just knew, ‘This is it.’”
Juarez, a lawful permanent resident of the United States who has lived in Weiser since childhood, was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers on Feb. 26, marking the start of his second detainment in two years. He’s spent the past nine months at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Wash., with no court hearing in sight—and no opportunity to seek bond.
The 38-year-old father of three is now hoping a civil suit filed in U.S. District Court last week by the University of Idaho’s Immigration Law Clinic, the Duke University Immigrant Rights Clinic, and the Immigrant Advocacy & Litigation Center in Kent, Wash., will give him the chance to show a judge that he isn’t a flight risk or a danger to his community if released.
“I was abruptly ripped away from my children and my family and the life I had successfully been rebuilding for over a year,” Juarez wrote in his declaration. “I desperately want to be released so that I can be with my children and family again and continue the work I had started.”
Kate Evans, current director of the Duke University Immigrant Rights Clinic and former director of the University of Idaho’s Immigration Law Clinic, sees Juarez’s case as “a recognition of the need to limit immigration detention.”
“This is an example of immigration officials taking far too wide a brush with a very, very severe sanction,” Evans said.
‘No end in sight’ to custody
Juarez was first placed into ICE custody in February of 2018, after serving a three-year criminal sentence in Idaho for two felony drug convictions from 2015. By then, he’d had his green card for twenty years: Juarez moved to Idaho from Mexico with his family when he was six years old, and became a lawful permanent resident in 1997. Prior to his 2015 felony drug convictions, Juarez had a record of multiple misdemeanor convictions, as well as a felony criminal solicitation conviction from 2007.
In August of 2018, an immigration judge ordered his deportation—but that decision was overturned the following January after Juarez appealed it. He was released after 11 months of no-bond detention and returned home to Weiser, where he found stable employment, completed a substance abuse program, paid off his court fees and complied with all the conditions of his probation, according to the lawsuit.
“He fought hard to make those changes and was really dedicated to it,” said Evans, who began working with Juarez in 2018, alongside Immigrant Justice Idaho.
A year later, in January of 2020, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted a motion by the Department of Homeland Security to reconsider Juarez’s successful appeal. The board reinstated Juarez’s removal proceedings and remanded his case to the immigration court for further factual findings; soon after, Juarez moved the Board of Appeals to reconsider its decision to resume his removal proceedings. A decision on that motion has been pending since, while Juarez remains in custody.
“The case has just been stalled since then and nothing has happened,” said Geoffrey Heeren, current director of the University of Idaho’s Immigration Law Clinic. “Really, there’s no end in sight to his custody.”
This past June, Juarez requested a bond hearing. His request was denied by an immigration judge, who concluded that he was subject to mandatory detention because of his drug convictions, according to the lawsuit.
Legal action taken
Past U.S. Supreme Court cases have established that immigration detention is not intended to be punitive; rather, it’s meant to ensure that a person does not flee or harm the public during their legal proceedings. Juarez’s attorneys argue that he is not a flight risk and does not pose a danger to his community, citing his accomplishments following his first detention and the fact that he willingly surrendered himself to ICE in February—therefore, they say, making his extended period of detention unconstitutional. Because Juarez has not had the opportunity to seek release, no immigration judge has officially deemed him a flight risk or a danger, according to the lawsuit.
“The problem with Luis’ case is that he spent 13 months demonstrating that he’s neither a flight risk or a danger in any way,” Evans said. “He’s sitting in jail away from his family, away from work, away from court fees, away from all of the things he was taking care of, for no reason.”
The civil suit requests that one of two actions are taken: either the court orders the federal government to release Juarez immediately on his own recognizance or via a bond set by the court, or the court orders the government to hold an individualized bond hearing for Juarez within 14 days.
The petition was filed Nov. 11 and names as defendants Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf; Tony Pham, acting director of ICE; Nathalie Asher, director of ICE’s Seattle Field Office; Northwest ICE Processing Center Warden Stephen Langford; U.S. Attorney General William Barr; and Executive Office for Immigration Review Director James McHenry.
ICE regional spokeswoman Tanya Roman told the Idaho Mountain Express that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
“However,” Roman said, “the agency’s lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations.”
Case ‘in no way unique’
Juarez’s situation—finding himself in prolonged, indefinite detention without a chance to seek bond—is “in no way unique to Luis,” Evans said.
“Unfortunately, it’s quite common.”
If the petition filed last week is unsuccessful—whether the request for a hearing is denied, or a hearing is granted but does not result in Juarez’s release—Juarez and his attorneys will have the chance to appeal, according to Evans.
If successful, Heeren said, he hoped Juarez’s case would “send a message that it’s still possible for justice to be done.”
Were he to be released today, Juarez wrote in his declaration, “I would continue my work on myself and being a better person” and “pick right back up where I left off” in February.
“I want to show my family how much I appreciate all that they have done for me,” Juarez wrote. “I want to try and deserve that.”