Students Argue, Win Immigration Appeal Before Sixth Circuit

Three University of Minnesota law students are effectively pushing back against potential executive overreach, arguing and winning an important case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The case, Jasso Arangure v. Whitaker, was decided in late December. The legal issue in Jasso was whether “res judicata,” a legal principle intended to prevent relitigation of cases between the same parties over the same issues, applies at the administrative level of an immigration proceeding.

The three Minnesota Law students who led the litigation were 3Ls Kayla Hoel, Paul Dimick, and Zachary Hofeld. Due to the case’s prominence and potential impact, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyer’s Guild submitted an amicus curiae brief to the 6th Circuit supporting the arguments the students made in the principal brief.

A legal permanent resident since 2003, Ramon Jasso Arangure pled guilty to first-degree home invasion in Michigan. Afterwards, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began a removal proceeding against him. DHS claimed that Jasso Arangure’s home-invasion conviction was a “crime of violence” making him deportable under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). DHS’s initial “crime of violence” claim was thrown out after the Sixth Circuit declared the clause unconstitutionally vague. DHS then brought a second deportation action against Jasso Arangure, using the “burglary offense” clause under the INA, based on the same facts as the earlier administrative procedure. The question before the Sixth Circuit was whether res judicata applied to preclude the second administrative proceeding.

Res Judicata as Fundamental Fairness

Ben Casper Sanchez ‘97, faculty director of the James H. Binger Center for New Americans was the supervising attorney in the Jasso case. “The students argued that common law judicial principles such as res judicata and preclusion, which apply in traditional courts, would apply equally in administrative proceedings, in order to ensure fundamental fairness to people subject to federal prosecutorial power, as well as ensure the integrity and legitimacy of the decisions of the administrative courts,” explains Casper Sanchez. The Sixth Circuit agreed with that argument.

Allowing DHS a second bite at the apple would have represented an offense against the rule of law, says Hofeld, who handled oral arguments before the Sixth Circuit (along with Dimick). “Without res judicata in immigration proceedings, there would be no check on the government's power to bring charge after charge, based on the same set of underlying facts, against lawful permanent residents. That check has now been restored,” Hofeld adds.

Reaffirming Confidence in the Rule of Law

“We were motivated by knowing we were making a real difference for our client, by working to return him to the United States and reinstate his lawful permanent resident status,” says Hoel, “and also making a real difference in the lives of thousands of individuals” potentially impacted by the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

Dimick describes his experience working on the Jasso case as “the highlight of my law school career,” adding that “Ben and our team of adjunct professors were there every step of the way, providing invaluable feedback and guidance to our student team.”

Casper Sanchez says “witnessing these three students brief, argue, and win this important case stands out as a highlight in my career as a teacher and lawyer.” All the more impressive because, as Casper Sanchez explains, “they argued in front of a three-judge panel and all the judges had been appointed by the Trump administration.” For Hofeld, the Sixth Circuit decision “reaffirmed my confidence in this nation and in the Rule of Law. The three judges, by their questions, intent listening, and sincere exchange of ideas, were simply three individuals striving ardently to decide the law correctly, as defined not by their own views but by stare decisis.”

Potential Impact of the Ruling

The Sixth Circuit decision, especially in light of the panel’s makeup, may well dissuade DHS and administrative judges from disregarding res judicata in future immigration proceedings outside the Sixth Circuit, according to Casper Sanchez.

“The Sixth Circuit’s decision is of great importance because of the sheer number of people caught up in the current immigration detention and removal system,” says Casper Sanchez. He calls the decision “a strong embrace of traditional judicial power under the Constitution to say what the law is, as opposed to judicial deference to over-expansive assertions of executive authority.”

-- By Chuck Leddy, a Boston-based freelance writer

Benjamin Casper Sanchez ’97