Detained Chicago DACA Youth Sues Federal Government For His Release

DACA lawsuit press conference
Members of Chicago-based immigrant rights group, Organized Communities Against Deportations, stand outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in downtown Chicago. The group launched a public campaign during the summer calling on immigration officials to release Jesus Alberto Lopez Gutierrez. Maria Ines Zamudio / WBEZ
DACA lawsuit press conference
Members of Chicago-based immigrant rights group, Organized Communities Against Deportations, stand outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building in downtown Chicago. The group launched a public campaign during the summer calling on immigration officials to release Jesus Alberto Lopez Gutierrez. Maria Ines Zamudio / WBEZ

Detained Chicago DACA Youth Sues Federal Government For His Release

A Chicago immigrant has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and two agencies within that department, for failing to release him from a detention center even though he qualifies for temporary protection from deportation.

Jesus Alberto Lopez Gutierrez, 24, qualifies for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, which gives immigrants brought to the United States as children temporary relief from deportation. Lopez Gutierrez was initially granted a DACA permit in 2013. That permit expired in 2015, and he had not yet renewed it when he was arrested in May 2019 for marijuana possession. The criminal charges were later dropped, but immigration officials, who had initiated deportation proceedings for Lopez Gutierrez, refused to release him.

The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court last week, also names U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as defendants, in addition to Homeland Security.

“Jesus has spent more than seven months in immigration detention. Under ICE’s policies they should have released him. If they only released him, he would be able to get DACA again to apply for renewal and avoid deportation. Instead, they are keeping him in jail, violating the U.S. Constitution,” attorney Wally Hilke said Monday morning during a press conference.

“The Administrative Procedure Act is a federal law that says that the federal government has to follow its own rules, and it has to respect people’s constitutional rights,” Hilke said.

Hilke said while Lopez Gutierrez is being held in detention, he can’t complete the process to renew his DACA permit.

The fate of the DACA program is uncertain. President Donald Trump’s administration moved to end the program in 2017. A legal challenge soon followed, and the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The highest court in the country heard legal arguments for this case in November. A decision is expected by June 2020.

Former President Barack Obama launched DACA in 2012, providing temporary protection from deportation to immigrants brought to this country as children by their parents. Under DACA, immigrants receive a two-year work permit, but the program does not provide a path to citizenship.

The Chicago-based immigrant rights group Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) launched a community campaign over the summer hoping to force immigration officials to release Lopez Gutierrez, who goes by Beto.

“We are asking that Beto be released from detention,” said Xanat Sobrevilla with OCAD. “His immediate freedom is necessary. Beto is missed by his family and community. We will pursue and continue fighting until Beto is back home in Chicago.”

In May, Lopez Gutierrez was coming back to Chicago from a camping trip with friends. His friend’s car was stopped by police in Iowa, and he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.

Lopez Gutierrez was later denied bond by an immigration judge and has been detained since his arrest. His lawyers then filed an application to renew his DACA permit. It was approved, and he was given an appointment in August to get his fingerprints taken, but ICE refused to release him.

In September, his lawyers asked immigration Judge Matthew E. Morrissey to issue a continuance on his deportation hearing, hoping they could get the DACA renewal. But the judge denied the motion and ordered Lopez Gutierrez to be deported, according to the lawsuit.

Lopez Gutierrez was brought to Chicago by his parents when he was 9 years old using a visitor’s visa. After Lopez Gutierrez was approved for DACA benefits in 2013, he was given a work permit. After high school, he started working construction to help support his parents, grandparents and siblings. His family relies on his income to survive, according to the lawsuit.