By Lisa Baumann and Gene Johnson
SEATTLE — Immigration activists and some U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday called for the immediate release of a Seattle-area man who was detained last week despite his participation in a federal program to protect those brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Lawyers for Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him last Friday morning when they went to his father’s house in Seattle to arrest the father.
Ramirez, who is Mexican, twice passed background checks as part of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, most recently for a two-year renewal issued last May, his lawyers said in court documents.
ICE has said Ramirez admitted to the agents that he was a gang member and was arrested as a threat to public safety. But his lawyers and sympathetic lawmakers insisted Wednesday has no criminal record, held down a job and is the father of a young child who is a U.S. citizen.
“Immigration authorities have no reason and no right to hold someone who has been granted deferred action, holds a valid work permit, and is an asset to his family and his community,” said U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, in a statement. “Just let him go.”
Unanswered questions about the case include why Ramirez was detained while his brother, also a participant in the program and also present at the house during the arrest, was not, according to Ramirez’s lawyers.
The DACA program — referred to as “Dreamers” by supporters and derided as “illegal amnesty” by critics — has protected about 750,000 immigrants. It allows young people who were brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.
Ramirez was still being held Wednesday at an immigration detention center in Tacoma, said Lara Bergthold, a spokeswoman for his lawyers.
A federal magistrate has ordered the government to provide details about the case and whether he had been placed in deportation proceedings. ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson on Wednesday said she could provide no new information.
President Donald Trump made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, saying he will build a wall along the Mexican border and deport millions of people, although actual plans have yet to be revealed. But he has also said he wants to focus on people who have committed crimes.
During an interview with Time magazine late last year, Trump expressed sympathy for those in the DACA program.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he told the magazine.
The program is considered an exercise in prosecutorial discretion by the Department of Homeland Security, which warns on its website that “deferred action may be terminated at any time, with or without a Notice of Intent to Terminate, at DHS’s discretion.” Gang membership or criminal activity is considered grounds for denial of DACA status.
But Ramirez’s legal team argued in a petition to U.S. District Court in Seattle seeking his release that the government’s discretion is limited to the rules governing the DACA program. Ramirez’s arrest violated his constitutional right to due process and to be free from unlawful seizure, the lawyers argued.
“Mr. Ramirez relied on DHS’s promise that, so long as he continued to meet the criteria established by DACA, any immigration action against him would be deferred,” they wrote. “As such, his detention is an indefensible sort of entrapment.”
Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for United We Dream immigrant support group and herself a DACA participant, told reporters that any suggestion Ramirez posed a public safety risk was “a lie.”
Medina had no criminal record, is the father of a 3-year-old, and spent thousands of dollars to maintain his DACA status, she said.
Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said Ramirez was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 7 and that he has a job.
He speculated Ramirez’s arrest was a mistake.
“I don’t think this has to do with any change in policy. I just think it was an enforcement procedure gone wrong,” Adams said. “Hopefully they’re going to come to their senses.”