The federal government must clarify by Thursday morning (Feb. 16) why a man protected from deportation under President Barack Obama’s administration has been held in Tacoma’s federal immigration detention center since Friday.
News spread Tuesday that immigration officials had arrested 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina last week at his father’s home in Des Moines, and that he filed a federal lawsuit Monday in Seattle arguing for his release.
More than two dozen protesters gathered late Tuesday on Tacoma’s Tideflats outside the Northwest Detention Center to protest Ramirez’s detention.
“We want to tell the Trump administration that we will not let them do this anymore,” said Wendy Pantoja of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, the Tacoma-based immigrant rights group that organized the demonstration.
Ramirez was brought to the United States from Mexico at age 7 and, since 2014, has been lawfully present in the country under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, according to the lawsuit.
The program doesn’t grant citizenship or permanent residency, but lets those brought to the U.S. as children — known as “Dreamers” — live and work in the United States temporarily and protects them from deportation based on immigration status.
Given that, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Donohue issued an order Tuesday asking the government for a brief by 9 a.m. Thursday to give the basis for Ramirez’s detention, assuming he’s still being held.
The judge also wanted to know if Ramirez is in deportation proceedings and whether the court can hold a detention hearing before the lawsuit is addressed.
That’s all in preparation for a hearing in the case that Donohue set for 10 a.m. Friday.
Ramirez was arrested in Des Moines while immigration officers were targeting a felon who had been previously deported, local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Rose Richeson said in a statement Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit, the ICE agents arrived as Ramirez was sleeping at his father’s home and arrested the father, for whom they had a warrant.
The officers took Ramirez into custody, Richeson said, because he admitted being affiliated with a gang and was a “risk to public safety.”
Ramirez’s attorneys said the ICE agents tried to get him to admit such affiliation during interrogation, but that he is not part of a gang, and has no criminal convictions.
Ramirez and his family were not available for interviews Wednesday.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project legal director Matt Adams, one of the attorneys on the case, said Ramirez is the first person he knows who has been detained with DACA status, and he thinks he was apprehended by 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.”
A Department of Homeland Security statement Wednesday said about 1,500 people had lost their DACA status since the start of the program, “due to a criminal conviction, gang affiliation, or a criminal conviction related to gang affiliation.”
A condition of receiving DACA status is that applicants must: “Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors,” and not otherwise threaten national security or public safety, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Recent sweeps by immigration agents across multiple states have netted some immigrants with no criminal records, a departure from recent enforcement actions. Under the Obama administration, agents focused more on individuals who posed a security or public safety threat.
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. He has said he wants to focus on people who have committed crimes.
Trump can withdraw DACA through an “operational memo” because Obama implemented it through one, said William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
During an interview with Time magazine late last year, Trump expressed sympathy for the more than 740,000 people in the DACA program, which started in 2012.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he told the magazine.
Some of the state’s elected officials seemed neither Wednesday, with regard to Ramirez’s arrest.
At a press conference in Olympia, several Democratic state lawmakers decried Ramirez’s detention as an unlawful violation of his rights.
“Let us be clear, we expect the law to be upheld. He is here legally,” said state Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo. “He was detained and has legal presence in this state. So we’re expecting some answers back.”
While Democratic lawmakers are working on proposals to combat discrimination based on people’s immigration status, Ortiz-Self said the laws that should protect Ramirez already are on the books and should be respected.
“We shouldn’t have to write a bill to uphold the laws of this country,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, whose district encompasses the Tacoma detention center, issued a similar statement Wednesday.
“To deport those acting in accordance with DACA flies in the face of American ideals, and shuts the door on members of our communities who have done no harm,” the Bellevue Democrat said.
“I call upon the Department of Homeland Security, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to clarify their standards on DACA recipients. Senselessly scaring communities through a lack of transparency and strong-arm tactics is shameful.”
Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, said Wednesday that the governor’s office was trying to get more information about the case from federal officials.
She said the governor’s office “would strongly oppose” any federal attempts to deport people covered under the DACA program, which she said still guarantees people certain additional constitutional protections.
“We are very hopeful it is a mistake,” Smith said of Ramirez’s arrest.
Protesters who came to the detention center late Tuesday to protest Ramirez’s detention believe Ramirez’s detention is unjust and violates federal guidelines, Pantoja said.
“All his life is here. He has his family here. He has his dreams here,” Pantoja said, referring to Ramirez’s life in the United States and his 3-year-old son.
“But now he’s here,” she said, gesturing toward the detention center.
She said it is an injustice that Ramirez is being punished for an action his parents took for him as a small child. She stressed the group will protest further detentions at the Tideflats facility just as it has this one.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1
What is DACA?
The presidential order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gives immigrants a reprieve from deportation along with the chance to apply for a work permit.
It is available to immigrants who can prove they:
▪ Were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012, and arrived in the United States before they were 16.
▪ Have lived in the country continuously since 2007.
▪ Currently are in the country.
In addition, they must be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate or be honorably discharged veterans of the military or the Coast Guard.
They also must never have been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
The Washington Post and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services