Minnesota Law

Fall 2023

Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic Prevails in Landmark Habeas Corpus Case

A Legal Victory Years in the Making Turns a Corner on Achieving Due Process for Immigrants in Custody

Front: Mary Georgevich '18, Maria Saracino-Lowe '23, Prof. Nadia Anguiano, John Weber '22, and Ellie Soskin '22.  Back: Prof. Linus Chan and Ben Gleekel '23

After years of work, the Binger Center for New Americans has achieved key objectives to protect the rights of noncitizens subject to immigration custody. The Binger Center’s work—spearheaded by the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic (FILC), the Detainee Rights Clinic (DRC), and some of the Center’s nonprofit and law firm partners—has focused on noncitizens with criminal histories who are spending years in mandatory civil immigration detention in Minnesota with little opportunity to meaningfully challenge their custody.

Most recently, the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic prevailed in Zackaria M. v. Garland before the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Clinic faculty and students joined forces with the law firm of Robins Kaplan, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, The Advocates for Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union, on the habeas corpus case related to noncitizens in prolonged detention.

In an earlier decision, Muse v. Sessions, argued by Binger Center alum John Bruning ’17 in 2018, the U.S. District Court ruled that a noncitizen’s prolonged detention without a custody hearing was unconstitutional. Therefore, the District Court ruled, the immigration court must hold a custody hearing as a matter of due process, even when the immigration statute does not provide for one. In 2021, the District Court ruled in Pedro O. v. Garland—another Binger Center case argued by two students from the Detainee Rights Clinic—that the government, not the noncitizen, must bear the burden of proof at such custody hearings. In the Zackaria case, the District Court sided with the FILC again, ruling that due process also requires the immigration judge at a custody hearing to consider ability to post bond and whether the noncitizens’ attendance at any future hearings can be assured by alternatives to detention. 

“We finally won all of the due process protections we had been seeking,” said Nadia Anguiano ’17, associate professor of clinical law and director of FILC. “We got to this point incrementally. Our position from the start was that not only did the Constitution require a custody hearing and that the government must bear the burden of proof, but also that the adjudicator must consider the ability to post bond and alternatives to detention. This was a difference maker for those who have been languishing for years in county jails with no opportunity to contest their civil immigration custody.” 

Anguiano says that this latest ruling reflects years of collective advocacy to shine a spotlight on how immigration court proceedings infringe on due process rights. Students in the clinic and clinic partners worked arduously to introduce evidence about what was happening in immigration court custody hearings. “While the Muse decision was a big win, the process was still flawed and custody hearings were oftentimes meaningless,” she said.  

Ben Gleekel ’23 started working on the habeas litigation in fall 2021 as a 2L. He and another student, Maria Saracino-Lowe ’23, drafted and filed the initial petition with the U.S. District Court under the supervision of Anguiano and other FILC faculty, including adjunct professor Mary Georgevich ‘18, a senior litigation attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center. Gleekel was then supervised by partners at Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, including Binger alum Kerry McGuire ‘16, to continue representing the client before the immigration court.

“It was intense and complex,” Gleekel said. “I’ve lost track of how many petitions and replies we wrote. There was a lot of back and forth to get the immigration court to act in accordance with the decisions of the District Court.”

Gleekel, who will continue his work at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota full-time as an attorney and Saeks Public Interest Fellow in September, said that despite how intensive the work was, it was also deeply rewarding. “Advocating with someone who has had their life and liberty stripped from them and going before a court to force an oppressive system to do the right thing is empowering,” he said. “It also gave me an opportunity to get to know a client well. Such an involved process for such a noble and good cause perfectly positioned me to learn.”

Anguiano notes that the impact of these collective decisions extends beyond the District of Minnesota. “Habeas is being litigated everywhere in the country, so other petitioners and courts are borrowing from Minnesota to establish good case law across the country.”