Judge uses 'discretion, ambiguity' and frees undocumented California mom on supervised release

U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar ordered the supervised release of Floricel Liborio Ramos of Lodi on March 14, 2018 after her being in detention for 11 months

A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered the release of a single mother with two prior DUIS – but who is in alcohol recovery and now regularly attends church – in what could be the first case since the Supreme Court ruled that undocumented immigrants could be detained indefinitely without bond hearings.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar ordered the supervised release of Floricel Liborio Ramos of Lodi, Calif. on March 14, after she had been in detention for 11 months. He wrote that the Supreme Court didn’t say all undocumented immigrants “shall” be detained, but a certain class of immigrants “may be” detained. That decision, Tigar argued in court papers, suggests “discretion and ambiguity.”

 “We hope that her case can set a positive example for judges and courts across the United States,” her legal team at Pangea Legal in San Francisco wrote. The legal team worked pro bono, and received funds through the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Fund.

Attorney Jehan Laner Romero told KTVU on Tuesday that Tigar allowed Ramos to go home to her three children wearing an ankle bracelet because her detention was based on a prior deportation order. And that type of detention was not included in last month’s Supreme Court decision, Romero said, even though many immigration judges mistkenly interpreted the decision to cover every type of undocumented immigrant.

To her knowledge, Ramos is the first undocumented immigrant in prolonged detention to be given supervised release since the Supreme Court's Jennings v. Rodriguez ruling.

“This decision is important for two reasons,” Romero said. “Because it establishes the fact that immigrants can get bond hearings after six months and it also highlights rehabilitation.” 

On Feb. 27, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants held in detention for months and even years are not entitled to a bail hearing.  These cases involve people who are legal permanent residents in the U.S. and are subject to potential deportation because they've committed some relatively minor crime or people who have come to the U.S. to seek asylum and have passed the first level of screening.

In Ramos’ case, ICE agents had detained her but also found she had a reasonable fear of returning to Mexico where members of Zetas gang threatened to kill her, court papers state. Therefore, she was placed in a “withholding proceeding,” which is similar to asylum, a legal status that gives her an opportunity to stay in the United States.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that under a federal law, people in these circumstances are entitled to a bail hearing every six months, and that if they can persuade a neutral judge that they're not a safety or a flight risk, they're entitled to temporary release if they post a money bond or agree to electronic monitoring or both.

But  in a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court overturned that decision. Justice Samuel Alito said that the statute does not allow for bail. 

However, the Supreme Court sent it back to the lower court with two questions unresolved. First, whether indefinite detention without a chance for bail is unconstitutional, and second, whether the challenge to that no-bail provision can be brought as a class action instead of on case-by-case individual cases.

Tigar, the federal judge in San Francisco, looked at Ramos’ individual circumstances. He disagreed with Immigration Judge Valerie A. Burch who found Ramos to be a danger and a flight risk. Tigar wrote that Ramos began drinking a few years back to deal with the stress of raising her children alone, and that after her second misdemeanor DUI, she began her recovery efforts in earnest.  She quit her job at a restaurant. And she began attending church.

"Two non-violent misdemeanors, in which no one was injured, in light of the other facts of the record, simply do not justify indefinite detention," Tigar wrote.

Tigar also added that there are many other alternatives other than detention to prevent her from being a danger, like mandatory alcohol education and counseling. 

Ramos, who is trying to re-establish her work permit and is busy making sure her children have the right health insurance, still faces a deportation hearing. That is scheduled for early June.