Immigration judge responds to community support— Villager granted bond, released
- Published: September 26, 2019
Miguel Espinosa is home — for now.
The Yellow Springs business owner and father of three posted a $10,000 bond Tuesday, Sept. 17, the day after a U.S. immigration judge granted the bond, citing Espinosa’s standing in the community in allowing his release from federal detention while the local resident challenges deportation proceedings.
The bond hearing took place Monday morning at the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House in downtown Cleveland. Espinosa appeared with his lawyer via tele-video from the Butler County Jail, where he had been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, since Aug. 28. This reporter was the only observer in the Cleveland courtroom.
Espinosa, 41, who is from Mexico and does not have legal U.S. immigration status, was taken into ICE custody after being booked into the Greene County Jail following a traffic stop by Yellow Springs police Aug. 26.
The local traffic stop was the fourth in three years resulting in citations, mostly related to driving without a license. A stop in July 2018 also resulted in a citation and conviction for OVI, or operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
On Monday, the “government’s attorney,” or prosecutor, for the Department of Homeland Security, identified by the judge as Justin Roth, cited the 2018 OVI and another from 2006 in Florida, as reasons to deny bond.
“He [Espinosa] presents a danger to both people and property of the United States,” Roth said.
In making his decision, Immigration Judge David C. Whipple said that two criteria — or “burdens” of proof on the part of respondent — guide all of his bond rulings: whether an individual poses a risk to people or property and whether the subject is a “flight risk,” in other words, likely to disappear before his case is completed.
Referring to a file in front of him containing support documents that included more than 120 letters from Yellow Springs friends, family and community leaders advocating for Espinosa, Whipple said he had no worries about flight risk.
The number of letters was “more probably than I could get from everyone I know,” he said.
“But I can’t look at all that wonderful stuff until we get past that first burden,” he added. “I’m concerned that you continued to drive without a valid license.”
Whipple said he was more troubled by Espinosa’s lack of a driver’s license than the two OVIs, which he noted were 12 years apart. Additionally, he noted that the most recent traffic stop did not involve alcohol, and he said he believed Espinosa’s assertion of abstinence following the 2018 citation.
Through a Spanish interpreter, the judge asked Espinosa if he had ever tried to get a license, and to the response of no, asked why not.
“Because I didn’t have a social [security number],” Espinosa replied.
“That makes a certain amount of sense,” Whipple said. “You can’t get something if you don’t have a legal right to do it.”
The judge further asked if Espinosa would follow a directive not to drive if given bond, to which Espinosa agreed.
The judge’s ruling
“I’ve made a decision in your case,” Whipple said after the questioning. “I’m going to find that you’ve met your burden. But it was kind of a close decision.”
The community support made the difference, he said.
“I am persuaded that you’ve gotten a handle on alcohol. And I believe you, sir, that if I issue you a condition that you will not drive without a valid license, you will comply with it.”
The judge continued, “If you choose to violate my order … and are found driving, even if you don’t break the law, and you don’t have a valid license, ICE could take you back into custody.”
In concluding his ruling, Whipple noted that there are “a great many people who admire you and think very highly of you. Do not let them down, sir.”
Prosecutor Roth retained the right to appeal the decision. If an emergency stay was not filed within 24 hours, then the Department of Homeland Security, under which ICE falls, has 30 days to file with the Board of Immigration Appeals, which would review Whipple’s ruling.
“If the board receives it and feels I made a mistake, they could overturn my decision and hold you without bond,” Whipple said.
In the meantime, with no emergency stay being filed, Espinosa’s wife, Yellow Springs native Dawn Boyer, posted the $10,000 bond on his behalf at the ICE offices in Columbus mid-day Tuesday. He was released from Butler County Jail late Tuesday afternoon.
The Monday bond hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes, was followed by a separate hearing that is part of the removal proceedings process.
According to Espinosa’s lawyer, Karen Bradley, whenever a foreign national is either detained or charged by ICE, the individual immediately enters into removal proceedings.
The bond hearing determines whether an individual will remain in custody as the proceedings move forward. The other hearing on Monday, also called a Master Hearing, was the first step in the process.
Its purpose is to review a set of four government “accusations” and for the individual to admit or deny each, and for the court to determine what “relief,” such as asylum or removal cancellation, the person is seeking, Bradley wrote in an email Tuesday.
Bradley, whose office is in Dayton, did not serve as Espinosa’s attorney for the Master Hearing. She wrote Tuesday that her name was only listed for the Custody/Bond hearing, so she waited outside the tele-video room, and Espinosa waived his right to counsel for that portion of the proceedings.
He then responded with “admit” to each of the stated accusations: “You are not a citizen or national of the U.S.; you are a national of Mexico and citizen of Mexico; you arrived in the United States at an unknown place and unknown date; and you were not admitted or paroled after inspection by an immigration officer.”
Whipple subsequently followed up with a series of questions concerning Espinosa’s personal circumstances, including the nationality of his wife and children as well as the ages and health of his children.
His and Boyer’s children, all born in the U.S., are 15, 10 and 5, and enrolled in Yellow Springs schools.
The judge also asked him if he faced persecution or torture should he return to Mexico.
“It’s possible,” Espinosa replied. “It’s really violent down there now.”
Whipple concluded that Espinosa qualified for “limited voluntary departure,” for which he could leave the United States on his own within a prescribed timeframe, or he could apply for asylum.
He instructed Espinosa in how to file the asylum-related paperwork, and Espinosa said he would like to consult with an attorney.
Whipple said that a second hearing would be scheduled for Sept. 30 if Espinosa remained in custody at that time, otherwise a date would be scheduled once the paperwork was filed.
Attorney Bradley later returned to the tele-video room and informed the judge that Espinosa would be filing a removal cancellation application.
In a phone interview earlier this month, she said she thought he qualified for the benefit, having been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, owning his own business, contributing to the community and having extended family, including children, who are U.S. citizens.
On Tuesday, she wrote that they would be filing the appropriate paperwork in the next week.
Cleveland U.S. Immigration Court
Whipple is one of seven judges presiding over immigration cases at the federal court house in Cleveland.
The U.S. Immigration Court is on the 13th floor of the 23-story skyscraper located at 801 W. Superior St. and named for the first black mayor of a major U.S. city.
Other building tenants include Cleveland-based federal circuit, district and magistrate judges, the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the clerk of courts and the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
The Cleveland Immigration Court is one of 64 U.S. immigration courts across the country, and the only one in Ohio, according to the Department of Justice’s website.
Whipple’s docket on Monday began at 8 a.m. By 10:15 a.m., he’d heard five separate cases, all being men in custody at Butler County Jail. Espinosa’s was the second hearing, beginning a couple of minutes after his scheduled 8:30 a.m. start. His total time with the judge came to just under an hour, with about 30 minutes for each of his bond and master hearings.
Two Guatemalan nationals, neither with an attorney, got about 15 minutes each for their individual master hearings. Neither sought bond.
The prosecuting attorney, who rarely spoke, had a large plastic bin filled with case files on the floor beside his chair. As each new case was called, he pulled out the proper file, later dropping it in a growing pile behind him as they concluded.
In the cases of the men from Guatemala, one said he had been in the U.S. for two years and had a U.S.-born daughter whose first birthday is Oct. 5. Through the Spanish interpreter, he said he was detained by ICE after being charged with an OVI that caused a crash. He said he couldn’t afford an attorney or bond, and chose to take the court’s offer of voluntary removal.
The second man from Guatemala said — again through the Spanish interpreter — that he had been detained after entering the country in March with his son. He didn’t indicate his son’s age.
After telling the judge that his first language was Mam, a Mayan dialect, Whipple offered to find a Mam interpreter, insisting that the respondent be able to use the language with which he was most comfortable. The man said he was equally comfortable with Spanish and that a Mam interpreter wasn’t necessary.
Whipple asked him if he wanted to get an attorney, and the man said he did, but didn’t know how to find one. Whipple told him there is a list of pro-bono attorneys with phone numbers that he could use, and said he would reschedule the hearing to give the man time to find representation.
In the meantime, the man asked if he would be separated from his son, were he to be deported.
“I don’t know,” Whipple replied, asking if the man knew where his son is now.
“Yes,” the father replied.
“Is he safe?” Whipple asked.
“Yes,” the man answered.
The morning’s fifth hearing was also brief. The detainee, a young man from Ghana, had entered the country on a student visa that had been canceled for unknown reasons, according to his legal representative, who was present in the Cleveland court. The attorney asked for time to investigate the cause for the cancellation, and the judge agreed.
Yellow Springs support
Espinosa, the proprietor and chef for Miguel’s Tacos, a popular downtown food truck, reportedly came to the U.S. in his youth. He and Boyer met in New York City and married there in 2004. They moved soon after to Tampa, Fla., eventually relocating to Yellow Springs in 2016 when Boyer took a job with Yellow Springs Schools, her alma mater.
News of his detention by ICE and threat of deportation galvanized many friends and supporters in the local community.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than $12,000 had been raised for his bond and family support through an online GoFundMe campaign. And a benefit event Sunday, Sept. 15, drew more than 100 people and raised $8,806, according to organizers.
At the Sunday gathering, Espinosa’s 15-year-old son read a letter of appreciation from his father written from the Butler County Jail.
“Since my incarceration, my family and I have received an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends, and the entire Yellow Springs community,” Espinosa wrote. “My family has also received daily meals, gift cards, waiver of my house and business rent expenses, and now … this fundraiser. … I am deeply moved.”
He wrote that the outpouring has inspired him to be of service to others.
“The love and support have made me feel a strong sense of duty of giving my time, love, and attention to those who are in need,” he wrote. “It has made me feel the duty of giving to others even more.”