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United States v. Vasquez-Benitez

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

March 26, 2019

United States of America, Appellant
v.
Jaime Omar Vasquez-Benitez, also known as Guero, also known as Alex Antonio Vasquez, also known as Jaime Hureo, also known as Jerman Vasquez-Mato, also known as Julio Israel Vasquez, also known as Herman Eduardo Vasquez, Appellee

          Argued February 25, 2019

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:18-cr-00275-1)

          Kathryne Gray, Trial Attorney, United States Department of Justice, argued the cause for the appellant. Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, Erez Reuveni, Director, Joshua S. Press, Trial Attorney, Nicholas P. Coleman and Elizabeth Trosman, Assistant United States Attorneys were with her on brief.

          Julia Fong Sheketoff, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for the appellee. A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender was with her on brief. Mary M. Petras, Assistant Federal Public Defender, entered an appearance.

          Yihong Mao was on brief for the amicus curiae National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild in support of the appellee.

          Before: Henderson and Tatel, Circuit Judges, and Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          Karen LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge.

         Jaime Omar Vasquez-Benitez is a citizen of El Salvador who has illegally entered the United States more than once and been removed from the country at least once. Upon his most recent entry, Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") civilly detained him for the purpose of removing him from the country. The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia ("U.S. Attorney") also criminally charged him with unlawful reentry. Both his criminal and civil proceedings are currently ongoing. The district court decided (1) that it is unnecessary to detain Vasquez-Benitez in order to ensure his presence at his criminal trial and (2) that its ruling releasing him pre-trial means ICE cannot civilly detain Vasquez-Benitez in order to remove him from the country. The United States appeals both decisions. We affirm the district court's decision declining to detain Vasquez-Benitez pending trial but reverse its decision prohibiting ICE from civilly detaining him pending removal.

         I. Background

         Vasquez-Benitez first entered the country illegally sometime before 2001. In 2001, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear in California state court on a charge of driving without a license. In 2005, he was accused of breaking into a woman's residence in Washington, D.C., attempting to sexually assault her at knifepoint and threatening retaliation if she called the police. He stood trial in D.C. Superior Court, where he was acquitted of certain charges but convicted of obstruction of justice based on the threat. He was sentenced to a term of three years' imprisonment, which he served from 2005 until 2008. Upon his release in 2008, ICE initiated proceedings to remove him from the country and he was removed to El Salvador. He reentered the country sometime before 2016, when he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") for allegedly attacking two individuals with a knife and identifying himself as a member of the violent 18th Street gang. The assault charges against him were dismissed, apparently before ICE was alerted to his presence, and he was released into the community. On July 12, 2018, MPD officers stopped Vasquez-Benitez because his torso and arms were covered in tattoos associated with 18th Street and arrested him for suspected gang activity. This time the MPD contacted ICE.

         A. The Civil Proceedings

         ICE identified Vasquez-Benitez as an illegal alien subject to a final order of removal and took him into immigration custody pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(5). On July 20, he asserted a basis for withholding of removal. Proceedings to assess his claim are ongoing. The United States believes the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"), specifically 8 U.S.C. § 1231, [1] authorizes Vasquez-Benitez's civil detention until the removal proceedings are concluded, which authority he disputes.[2]

         B. The Criminal Proceedings

         On August 16, 2018, an ICE officer, with probable cause to believe Vasquez-Benitez had illegally reentered the country in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1326, [3] obtained an arrest warrant. On August 20, Vasquez-Benitez was arrested and appeared before a magistrate judge. The magistrate judge continued Vasquez-Benitez's initial appearance and ...


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