Federal immigration authorities have arrested and threatened to deport a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant who was living in the United States legally under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to a lawsuit.
It appears to be the first time that an immigrant covered by the program — which temporarily shields the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation — has faced removal proceedings without having committed a crime, a group of lawyers, including Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe and First Amendment lawyer Ted Boutrous, said in a petition filed Monday in federal court in Seattle. The story was first reported by Reuters.
Daniel Ramirez Medina was taken into custody last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Seattle during a raid on his father’s house and transferred to a facility in Tacoma, Wash., despite having committed no crime, according to the habeas corpus petition. He was brought to the United States illegally as a child, the petition says, but was twice granted legal status under the program, known as DACA. His work permit should have been valid for at least another year, his attorneys said.
“The agents who arrested and questioned Mr. Ramirez were aware that he was a DACA recipient,” the petitions reads, “yet they informed him that he would be arrested, detained and deported anyway because he was ‘not born in this country.’ ”
It was not immediately clear why agents went to Ramirez’s father’s house, but the petition says they had a warrant for the father’s arrest.
ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson said Ramirez was a “self-admitted gang member” who was arrested during “an operation targeting a prior-deported felon,” but declined to elaborate on the matter.
“ICE officers took Mr. Ramirez into custody based on his admitted gang affiliation and risk to public safety,” Richeson told The Washington Post in an email, adding that Ramirez was facing removal proceedings before an immigration judge.
An attorney for Ramirez, Ethan Dettmer, denied that his client had any gang ties, telling Reuters that Ramirez was “repeatedly pressured by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to falsely admit affiliation.”
Ramirez’s case immediately raised alarms among immigration advocates, stoking fears that President Trump was making good on his campaign trail threats to rescind DACA. Created in 2012 through an executive order by President Barack Obama, the program has given temporary protection to more than 700,000 people — often called “dreamers” — who were brought to the country illegally as children.
As president, Trump has softened his language about dreamers, promising to treat them humanely. But advocates have worried that his administration could upend the DACA program and use personal data collected from applications to target scores of immigrants for deportation.
The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which is helping represent Ramirez, sought to alleviate those fears Tuesday. In a statement, the organization said Ramirez’s arrest appeared to be an “isolated incident and not an indication that ICE is going after DACA recipients.”
“While ICE has not provided an explanation of why they detained this young man, we do not want to create unwarranted concern,” the organization said.
Ramirez came to the United States when he was 7 and submitted to two background checks by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the petition, which says Ramirez has never been convicted of a crime. He first received DACA status in 2014, then had it renewed last year, his attorneys say, meaning he should have been protected until 2018. His lawsuit says he recently moved from California to Washington to find a better job so he could provide for his 3-year-old son, a U.S. citizen.
Ramirez was reportedly asleep at his father’s house in Seattle on Friday morning when ICE agents came with an arrest warrant for his father. After making the arrest, they allegedly went back into the house and confronted Ramirez.
“Are you legally here?” they asked, according to the petition.
“Yes, I have a work permit,” Ramirez replied, but declined to answer any other questions, the petition says.
The agents then took Ramirez to a processing center in Seattle, where his attorneys say he again told them about his work permit, which he had in his wallet.
“It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country,” one agent told him, according to the petition.
By the time the attorneys filed the lawsuit, Ramirez had been in custody for more than 70 hours. The attorneys argue that he was “subject to arrest and deportation solely as a result of his immigration status,” violating his constitutional rights.
“Mr. Ramirez was not afforded notice of, or a hearing on, his arrest and detention, and there is no probable cause for his arrest,” the petition says. “He has not committed any crime.”
Ramirez’s case drew attention from several lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who demanded in a tweet that ICE release Ramirez immediately. “DACA recipients should not be an ICE priority,” he said. “This action does nothing to make our country safe.”
DACA recipients should not be an ICE priority. They are young people working & contributing to this great country.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 15, 2017
ICE must provide answers & release Daniel immediately. This action does nothing to make our country safe.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) February 15, 2017
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday, court records show. Ahead of the hearing, authorities must explain the basis for Ramirez’s detention and say whether he has been placed in removal proceedings, according to a magistrate judge’s order filed Tuesday.