On July 19, 2022, a coalition of seventeen organizations, including Innovation Law Lab, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ), the ACLU of Northern California, NIPNLG, and several California public defender offices signed on as amici curiae to an Amicus Brief submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The brief was in support of a petition for rehearing en banc for Ramon Dominguez Gonzalez, who has been detained at Imperial Regional Detention Facility (IRDF) for over three years. Amici are committed to representing and supporting people who have been hyper-criminalized and are facing the brunt of both the criminal and immigration legal systems.
Fighting Back Against Deportation Through Hyper-Criminalization
In the US immigration & deportation system, anyone who is not a citizen and who has a conviction for a “crime of violence” with a sentence of over a year is considered to have been convicted of an “aggravated felony” which then makes them “deportable.” The problem is that state penal codes do not precisely match up with the federal definitions of criminal law, opening the door to misinterpretations that can lead to someone’s deportation even when it can be argued that their state conviction does not meet the federal definition of a “crime of violence.”
The focus of this Amicus Brief is challenging the interpretation of California Penal Code § 245(a), “assault upon the person of another,” as a crime of violence. Amici request the Ninth Circuit to take a fresh look at this issue, which involves the categorical approach and comparing the mens rea requirements for § 245(a) against the federal definition of a crime of violence.
In other words, anyone convicted of § 245(a) is automatically considered to have committed a federal “crime of violence,” despite the fact that actions that do not meet the federal definition of a crime of violence can be included in a § 245(a) conviction. In fact, in one case someone was convicted under § 245(a) because they “drove their car through a red light through an intersection.” In the case of a non-citizen, conviction of a “crime of violence” renders them deportable and ineligible for most pathways for immigration relief. A deportation for these individuals, many of whom came to the U.S. as children, is equivalent to exile from their home in this country.
Permanent separation from family, community and loved ones through deportation is an exceedingly cruel punishment for any conviction. A deportation for these individuals, many of whom came to the U.S. as children, is equivalent to exile from their home in this country. The misinterpretation of § 245(a) has exposed a wide range of people to this harsh consequence. As noted in the brief, this misinterpretation has “devastating repercussions in immigrant communities.”
Leadership and Solidarity Inside Imperial Regional Detention Facility
Ramon Dominguez Gonzalez is one of those who has been impacted by a § 245(a) conviction and is facing the threat of deportation. He was originally convicted when he was still a teenager, and since then he has been incarcerated for 15 years – 12 in prison and 3 in immigration detention at Imperial Regional Detention Facility.
Innovation Law Lab met Ramon back in Fall 2021. Ramon has been instrumental in the release of several others detained and in advocating against the dangerously inhumane conditions at IRDF, including a 2022 federal complaint based on toxic air and other conditions at the ICE prison. Ramon, as a jailhouse lawyer, led much of the development of the legal argument and identified the central cases relied on in the brief. The team at Innovation Law Lab involved in this effort—PJ Podesta, Josh Behrens, and Sumouni Basu—is grateful for Ramon’s leadership and hopes the Ninth Circuit agrees with amici so communities are not torn apart any longer as a result of this misinterpretation.
Ramon is pictured on the right in a banner for a petition to end toxic & retaliatory caging at IRDF.
Challenges Continue, but so Does Ramon’s Struggle for Freedom
Unfortunately, on August 3rd, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Ramon’s petition for a rehearing en banc. However, Ramón and the team we are a part of are working on post-conviction relief for the underlying conviction that threatens Ramon future in the country he calls home.
In the Amicus Brief you can read the stories of more people who have been impacted by the misinterpretation of § 245(a). Read it at https://innovationlawlab.org/media/Ninth-Circuit-Amicus-Brief-for-Rehearing-En-Banc.pdf