In a sudden reversal, federal authorities agreed Friday to free a national of the Dominican Republic who was arrested by immigration authorities in March at a government office in Lawrence while filing paperwork to become a legal US resident.
The decision was made as US District Judge Mark L. Wolf suggested he was willing to overrule immigration authorities and order the man’s release or order that he be entitled to a bond hearing, saying the man was deprived of due process rights when he was arrested and detained for close to 40 days.
Lawyers for Leandro Omar Arriaga celebrated the settlement they reached with the federal authorities, which will allow the 43-year-old to return to his wife and four children by noon Monday.
“I hope it sends the message that individuals in our country are entitled to due process of law, and that there are attorneys in this city who will stand up for that when it’s being challenged by government activity,” said Daniel L. McFadden, an attorney at Foley Hoag LLP.
Arriaga’s wife, Catherine Ramos, said in Spanish that she was glad her husband will return home to be with his children.
“I’m thankful for the court, for giving my husband the opportunity to pursue this,” she said.
Arriaga was one of five people whose arrest in March at the Lawrence office of US Citizenship and Immigration Services caused outrage among immigrant advocates because those arrested had no criminal records, had been in the country for several years, and were taking a corrective path to earn legal residency but were detained without bail.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said at the time that the five people had final orders for deportation that made them eligible for detention, but immigrant advocates said the action seemed to mark a shift in US immigration policy. In the past, authorities might have arrested someone at a government office, but would release them after processing paperwork, especially if they had not committed any crimes, according to immigration lawyers.
At least one of the other people arrested has since been released, but the status of the other three was not immediately known Friday. They have not been identified by officials.
Lawyers for Arriaga acknowledged that he stayed in the country despite a 2001 deportation order, but they said he stayed to work and support his mother and sisters. Since then, he has paid taxes, married a US citizen, and had four children.
His lawyers argued that he had taken the appropriate steps to try to gain legal residency, which is allowed under the immigration process, when he was arrested without notice. Lawyers for Arriaga filed a habeus petition with the US District Court because he had been held without the ability to see a judge.
In court Friday, William Silvis, an attorney for the US Department of Justice, argued that immigration laws allow authorities to detain someone with a final deportation order for up to 90 days without judicial review. Silvis said Arriaga would be deported immediately if it were not for his legal challenges.
But McFadden argued that federal authorities waived the ability to hold Arriaga without outside review when they chose not to detain him after his initial deportation order, or in the years since. Authorities have known where he has been living since at least 2013.
McFadden argued that the government’s decision to arrest him now is a new determination that entitles Arriaga to the ability to petition a judge for bond.
“There was no reason to disrupt his family,” McFadden told Wolf.
By Friday afternoon, McFadden and Silvis told Wolf that they had reached an agreement: Authorities would release Arriaga while he continues the process to earn legal residency. Immigration officials can review his case if he is not successful.
Susan Church, another attorney for Arriaga, said later that he is a “strong candidate” for permanent residency.
“People talk about this gentleman, but we’re also talking about US citizen family members here and US citizen children, and that’s what’s really important,” she said. “Why are we ripping families apart? Hopefully the [application] processors will see that.”