Press Releases

November 12, 2020

Illegally Deported Immigrant Released from Detention, Eligible for Citizenship

For Immediate Release: November 12, 2020

Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312 



Guatemalan immigrant who came to the U.S. as a teenager after suffering abuse and abandonment is reuniting with his family

 DETROIT, MI – November 12, 2020 – Tuesday evening Juan*, a Guatemalan man illegally removed from the U.S. in violation of a federal court order and later held by the federal government in a county jail after returning to the U.S., was finally released, ending a legal battle that started over two years ago with his involvement in a class action suit challenging an unlawful Trump Administration policy that denied humanitarian relief to thousands of immigrant children in California. Juan, who was represented by Public Counsel, Milbank LLP, and Michigan attorney Stephanie Blumenau, filed an emergency writ of habeas corpus, a motion for a temporary restraining order, and preliminary injunction in federal court in Michigan, measures which would stay his removal and grant him release from detention.

“The right to liberty is one of the most fundamental human rights. Despite having received humanitarian relief, the Government flagrantly deprived Juan of his freedom in violation of the law. Yesterday morning, justice prevailed when Juan walked out of jail and was reunited with his family. We will continue to stand with young immigrants as they vindicate their rights under the law,” said Mary Tanagho Ross, senior staff attorney at Public Counsel. 

After enduring a traumatic upbringing in Guatemala characterized by neglect, abandonment and abuse, Juan was placed under his cousin’s guardianship in 2016 by a California court. The court found that the then-20-year-old should not return to Guatemala and he petitioned for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a federal designation that permits immigrant children under the age of 21 who have sought refuge from distressing circumstances such as parental abandonment to become lawful permanent residents and have a pathway to US citizenship.

These issues came to a head in 2019 when five members of the class in  J.L. et al. v. Cuccinelli, et al were secretly deported in violation of a preliminary injunction, including Juan. US Magistrate Judge Cousins held the Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Services in civil contempt, requiring that all five young people be returned to the United States.

 While Juan was in Guatemala in 2019 due to the unlawful removal, he was attacked by gang members in his home country. Juan’s re-entry was authorized, but ICE and DHS  still took him straight to a Michigan county jail, where he has remained since March 2020. Upon arrival at the jail, he learned that he was granted SIJS, more than three years after filing his petition. But the Government immediately stated it would still try to remove him back to Guatemala and also indicated they would keep him in jail until they could remove him. Juan filed an emergency writ of habeas corpus and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, which would stay his removal and grant him release from detention. The federal court immediately granted the temporary restraining order, preventing DHS and ICE from again deporting Juan. But DHS and ICE refused to release him from the county jail, and remained intent on deporting him. After five federal court hearings, on Tuesday evening, the federal court ordered Juan’s immediate release from jail, noting that there is no legal basis to detain him.

 "I have been Juan's attorney since early 2019,” said Stephanie Blumenau. “He has been through so much, but he has remained resilient through it all. I am so happy that he is finally receiving the justice he deserves as we continue to work on his behalf.”

 Milbank senior consulting partner Linda Dakin-Grimm said: “We were incredibly relieved to learn of Juan’s release from detention. Despite his SIJ status, for years Juan has been denied the opportunity to build a life with his family in the United States. This victory sends a clear message that our country’s immigrant children deserve to be protected, respected and treated fairly in the eyes of the law, and we must hold our courts and law enforcement accountable for doing so.”

Juan’s priority date for citizenship became current in July 2020, he is eligible to apply for adjustment of status and become a Lawful Permanent Resident with a green card, just one step away from U.S. citizenship.

“Juan’s case is a stark reminder of DHS’s ongoing separation of families,” said Sara Van Hofwegen, supervising senior staff attorney with Public Counsel. “His unlawful removal from the United States and DHS’s refusal to release Melvin from custody kept Melvin separated from his family and young son for more than 18 months. It took court intervention for DHS to release Melvin and allow him to reunite with his family.”

*Immigrant’s real name protected 

About Public Counsel       

Public Counsel is the nation’s largest not-for-profit law firm of its kind – filing groundbreaking civil rights litigation, advancing justice through legislative and policy advocacy, and providing direct legal services that help tens of thousands of low-income people every year in California and across the nation. 


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