United States v. Baltazar-Sebastian, 121919 MSSDC, 3:19-CR-173-CWR-FKB

Docket Nº3:19-CR-173-CWR-FKB
Party NameUnited States of America, Plaintiff, v. Melecia Baltazar-Sebastian, Defendant.
Judge PanelBefore Carlton W. Reeves, District Judge.
Case DateDecember 19, 2019
CourtUnited States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Southern District of Mississippi

United States of America, Plaintiff,


Melecia Baltazar-Sebastian, Defendant.

No. 3:19-CR-173-CWR-FKB

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi

December 19, 2019

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...

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