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United States v. Baltazar-Sebastian

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi.

December 19, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Melecia Baltazar-Sebastian, Defendant.

          Before Carlton W. Reeves, District Judge.



         The United States has charged Melecia Baltazar-Sebastian with one count of misusing a Social Security number. It arrested her and promptly brought her before a United States Magistrate Judge for a detention hearing. After considering the parties' evidence, their arguments, and the applicable law, the Magistrate Judge ordered Baltazar-Sebastian to be released until her trial. The Order required Baltazar-Sebastian to remain in the Southern District of Mississippi.

         No one appealed the Magistrate Judge's Order. That would normally be the end of the matter. Here, however, an agency within the United States Department of Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - decided that the Order does not apply to it. ICE took custody of Baltazar-Sebastian and transported her to a detention facility in Louisiana for deportation proceedings.

         Baltazar-Sebastian, through her attorney, filed a series of motions in this Court objecting to the government's circumvention of the Magistrate Judge's Order. Two hearings followed. All of the briefs and arguments concern the same question: does federal law permit ICE to override the Magistrate Judge's Order releasing Baltazar-Sebastian on bond?

         For the reasons discussed below, the answer is “no.” In the absence of a statute indicating that Congress authorized ICE to circumvent the Magistrate Judge's Order, and without appealing that Order, ICE was not permitted to move Baltazar-Sebastian to Louisiana. While ICE may continue removal proceedings, the defendant is required to remain in this Judicial District under bond conditions where she and her attorney can prepare for trial.

         Accordingly, the Court affirms once more the pretrial release of Baltazar-Sebastian subject to conditions determined by the Magistrate Judge. Once the criminal proceedings regarding this defendant are finished, this Court's role in the matter is complete, and the Executive Branch will then be free to detain her for removal proceedings.

         I. Factual Background

         Melecia Baltazar-Sebastian was born in Guatemala in 1979. The facts behind her relocation to Mississippi are not known at this time, but it is clear that she made a home in this state. She lived in Morton, Mississippi, raised a family, and found a faith community at the Catholic Church of Saint Martin of Porres.

         Baltazar-Sebastian also goes by “Amparo Sanchez.” In Spanish, “amparo” means “refuge” or “protection.” United States v. Fowlie, 24 F.3d 1059, 1064 (9th Cir. 1994); A. S. (Widow) v. Advance Am. Diving, No. 2007-LHC-505, 2008 WL 10656987, at *4 n.2 (Dep't of Labor Apr. 11, 2008).[1] The record does not explain the origin of Baltazar-Sebastian's use of this name. Future proceedings may resolve whether that was the name she gave to the chicken processing plant that employed her, whether it is her nickname, or something else.

         In 2017, the Division of Children Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Settlement released Baltazar-Sebastian's then 17-year-old daughter, also named Melecia, into her mother's care under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Beyond raising and educating her daughter, Baltazar-Sebastian was required to ensure that her daughter appeared at all immigration proceedings. There is no evidence of non-compliance in the record. Baltazar-Sebastian bought a car in 2018, secured a job, and had no criminal history to speak of until August 7, 2019.

         That day, more than 600 federal agents conducted immigration enforcement actions at six chicken processing plants in central Mississippi. Baltazar-Sebastian was one of 680 persons taken into custody.[2] Two weeks later, a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Mississippi indicted her for one count of misusing a Social Security number. There have been 118 other indictments filed in this District as a result of the August 7 enforcement actions.[3]

         On September 3, 2019, a detention hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Linda R. Anderson. As in each detention hearing in this District, the government was represented by the United States Attorney's Office. Counsel for Baltazar-Sebastian provided evidence through documents and the testimony of three witnesses regarding her client's residence, church fellowship, commitment to care for her daughter, and daughter's school records. Judge Anderson concluded that Baltazar-Sebastian was not a danger to the community or a flight risk. Accordingly, Judge Anderson issued an Order releasing Baltazar-Sebastian on bond subject to specific conditions, including that she “remain in the Southern District of Mississippi at all times during the pendency of these proceed-ings unless special permission is obtained from the Court.” Docket No. 14 at 2. The government did not appeal Judge Anderson's Order.

         Baltazar-Sebastian was not released. ICE immediately took her into custody and transferred her to a holding center in Louisiana. For an extended period of time, Baltazar-Sebastian's whereabouts were unknown to her daughter and her attorney. Baltazar-Sebastian was not able to communicate with her attorney about her case.[4] On September 13, 2019, she appeared before an Immigration Judge in Louisiana. The hearing was continued to give her time to find an immigration attorney.

         On September 25, 2019, in this criminal case, the United States filed a Motion for Writ of Habeas Corpus Ad Prosequendum to ensure that Baltazar-Sebastian would be present at a hearing before this Court. The motion was granted by Magistrate Judge F. Keith Ball. Counsel for Baltazar-Sebastian then filed two motions of her own: (1) to set aside the Writ, and (2) to clarify her client's conditions of release. Counsel argued that because Baltazar-Sebastian had been released on bond by the Magistrate Judge, her continued detention by ICE was unlawful.

         A hearing was held on October 15, 2019. Baltazar-Sebastian asked the Court to enforce Judge Anderson's Order of Release. This Court granted Baltazar-Sebastian's request and promised a detailed written order. The United States' motion for reconsideration followed shortly thereafter. Another hearing was held on November 18, 2019, this time with representatives from the United States Attorney's Office, the Department of Justice (Main Justice), and ICE.[5] The Court's full ruling follows.

         A. Relevant Law

         This case requires the Court to analyze the Bail Reform Act of 1984 (BRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3141 et seq., and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq.

         1. The Bail Reform Act

         “In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without a trial is the carefully limited exception.” United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 755 (1987). Congress understood this when it enacted the BRA, which provides that a “judicial officer shall order the pretrial release” of a person charged with a federal crime, “unless the judicial officer determines that such release will not reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required or will endanger the safety of any other person or the community.”[6] 18 U.S.C. § 3142(b). “The word ‘shall' is mandatory in meaning.” United States v. Graves, 908 F.3d 137, 141 (5th Cir. 2018), as revised (Nov. 27, 2018) (citing Valdez v. Cockrell, 274 F.3d 941, 950 (5th Cir. 2001)). Pursuant to this language, “the presumption is release absent a demonstration that the defendant is likely to flee or is a danger to the community.” United States v. Espinoza-Ochoa, 371 F.Supp.3d 1018, 1020 (M.D. Ala. 2019) (citation omitted).

         The BRA expressly contemplates pretrial release for aliens. See United States v. Adomako, 150 F.Supp.2d 1302, 1304 (M.D. Fla. 2001). Section 3142(d) of the Act provides that if a judicial officer determines that an alien “may flee or pose a danger to any other person or the community, then the judicial officer shall order the temporary detention of such person in order for the attorney for the government to notify the appropriate official of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.” United States v. Trujillo-Alvarez, 900 F.Supp.2d 1167, 1174 (D. Or. 2012) (citing 18 U.S.C. § 3142(d)) (quotation marks and emphasis omitted). This temporary detention may not exceed 10 days. 18 U.S.C. § 3142(d). The statute continues, “[i]f the official fails or declines to take such person into custody during that period, such person shall be treated in accordance with the other provisions of this section, notwithstanding the applicability of other provisions of law governing release pending trial or deportation or exclusion proceedings.” Id. “The ordinary meaning of notwithstanding is in spite of, or without prevention or obstruction from or by.” N.L.R.B. v. SW General, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 929, 939 (2017) (quotation marks and citations omitted). The use of “notwithstanding” in a statute “shows which provision prevails in the event of a clash.” Id. (citing Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 126-27 (2012)).

         No other section in the BRA addresses aliens, nor are there special or additional conditions placed on such persons. Congress chose not to make any other distinction between citizens and aliens. Outside of § 3142(d), Congress required that detainees be treated alike.

         2. The Immigration and Nationality Act

         “An illegal alien is detained under the INA to facilitate his removal from the country.” United States v. Vasquez-Benitez, 919 F.3d 546, 553 (D.C. Cir. 2019) (citing 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(2)).

         Section 1226(a) of the INA states that “an alien may be arrested and detained pending a decision on whether the alien is to be removed from the United States.” 8 U.S.C. § 1226(a). Though § 1226(a) generally makes an alien's detention permissive, § 1226(c) provides specific instances when continued physical custody of an alien is mandated. Id. § 1226(a), (c). For example, if an alien has been convicted of committing an aggravated felony within the United States, then § 1226(c) requires detention. Id. § 1226(c)(1)(B).

         In the INA, Congress instructed the Executive Branch to remove an alien from the United States within 90 days from when the alien is subject to a removal order. Id. § 1231(a)(1)(A). This 90-day period is known as the “removal period.” The removal period begins to run on the latest of the following:

(i) The date the order of removal becomes administratively final.
(ii) If the removal order is judicially reviewed and if a court orders a stay of the removal of the alien, the date of the court's final order.
(iii) If the alien is detained or confined (except under an immigration process), the date the alien is released from detention or confinement.

Id. § 1231(a)(1)(B) (emphasis added).

         A defendant released on conditions of pretrial supervision is deemed “confined” because she is subject to restraints not shared by the general public. See Hensley v. Mun. Ct., 411 U.S. 345, 351 (1973). It follows that because an alien released on pretrial bond is still technically “confined, ” the 90-day removal period for such a defendant has yet to begin. While an Article III criminal proceeding is ongoing, therefore, ICE is under no time constraint to deport the alien-defendant.

         The INA also authorizes the Executive Branch to establish regulations to enforce the statute and “all other laws relating to the immigration and naturalization of aliens . . . .” 8 U.S.C. § 1103(a)(1), (3). Under this authority, the Executive Branch has issued several regulations, including one commonly known as the “ICE detainer.” The “detainer serves to advise another law enforcement agency that the Department seeks custody of an alien presently in the custody of that agency, for the purpose of arresting and removing the alien.” 8 C.F.R. § 287.7(a). The purpose of an ICE detainer, then, is to secure and remove an alien.

         ICE does not, however, have authority to sidestep the BRA and detain a defendant “for the sole purpose of ensuring [the alien's] presence for criminal prosecution.” United States v. Soriano Nunez, 928 F.3d 240, 245 (3d Cir. 2019); see also Vazquez-Benitez, 919 F.3d at 552.

         Two further INA regulations are pertinent to our case. First, 8 C.F.R. § 215.2(a) provides that “[n]o alien shall depart, or attempt to depart, from the United States if his departure would be prejudicial to the interests of the United States under the provisions of § 215.3.” Section 215.3, in turn, provides that departure from the United States of “any alien who is needed in the United States . . . as a party to[] any criminal case under investigation or pending in a court in the United States” is deemed prejudicial. 8 C.F.R. § 215.3(g). This regulation then clarifies that an alien who is party to a pending criminal case “may be permitted to depart from the United States with the consent of the appropriate prosecuting authority, unless such alien is otherwise prohibited from departing under the provisions of this part.” Id.; see also Trujillo-Alvarez, 900 F.Supp.2d at 1178-79.

         Reading these regulations together indicates that by pursuing a criminal case against an alien, the Executive Branch itself has determined that an ongoing criminal proceeding takes priority over removal. Once a criminal proceeding is complete, removal is no longer prejudicial to the United States' interests and the Department of Homeland Security is free to deport the individual subject to a final removal order.

         3. Court Orders

         “When the district court enters an order in a case, we expect the affected persons to abide by the order, ” United States Attorney Robert K. Hur said a few weeks ago.[7]

         “[A]n order issued by a court with jurisdiction over the subject matter and person must be obeyed by the parties until it is reversed by orderly and proper proceedings.” Matter of Jones, 966 F.2d 169, 173 (5th Cir. 1992) (citing Maness v. Meyers, 419 U.S. 449, 459 (1975)). “Trial judges and opposing litigants have a right to expect that the court's orders will be carefully followed in order that the business of the court may be handled expeditiously and fairly.” Woods v. Burlington N.R. Co., 768 F.2d 1287, 1290 (11th Cir. 1985), rev'd on other grounds, 480 U.S. 1 (1987). When a party believes an order is incorrect, its remedy is to appeal, “but, absent a stay, [it] must comply promptly with the order pending appeal.” Matter of Jones, 966 F.2d at 173 (citation omitted).

         District courts have inherent power to enforce “their lawful mandates.” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991) (citations omitted). These powers are “governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.” Id. (citation omitted). A noncom-pliant party risks fines, sanctions, or even incarceration until compliance is achieved. See, e.g., Nelson v. United States, 201 U.S. 92, 96-97 ...

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