A federal magistrate has refused to release from custody a 23-year-old Mexican immigrant whose case has drawn an international audience — first, because he has been accepted in a program that shields "Dreamers" from deportation, and now because his attorneys allege officials altered documents to make him look guilty.
Attorneys for Daniel Ramirez Medina also argue that federal agents lied about statements Ramirez made in custody and inaccurately described a tattoo on his forearm as a gang tattoo.
Judge James Donohue did not address those issues but ordered a bond hearing for Ramirez before an immigration court. "I'm not going to tell the immigration judge how to conduct his or her hearing, just that it must happen by one week from today," Donohue said Friday.
The Mexican-born, California-raised Ramirez was taken into custody Feb. 10 and is being held in a U.S. detention facility in Tacoma, Wash., facing an immigration hearing and possible deportation.
He is suing in a separate federal court to prove that his arrest was unconstitutional and that he is legally protected from removal to Mexico under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, whose participants are called Dreamers. Immigration authorities say Ramirez admitted to associating with gangs — a charge he denies — and thus is no longer protected by DACA.
The program was created by President Obama in 2012 to assist certain young people brought illegally into the U.S. as children and raised here. Candidates have to pass background and crime-record checks, pay a fee and, if accepted, apply for renewal every two years. Those who fail are subject to revocation and expulsion.
Several dozen supporters and protesters waited outside the Seattle courthouse Friday, hoping to cheer Ramirez's release. Instead, the disappointed activists waded into the street and sat down in front of traffic. "This sucks!" said one.
According to Jeffrey Robins, an assistant director in the Justice Department's Office of Immigration Litigation, Ramirez admitted to federal immigration agents that he "used to hang out with the Sureños [street gang] in California," that he "fled California to escape from the gangs," and that he "still hangs out with the Paisas in Washington state."
That was enough for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take Ramirez into custody — something that happens infrequently with Dreamers. About 1,500 of the country's 750,000 qualified Dreamers have been deported since Obama created DACA through executive action.
Observers are watching the Seattle case for signs that President Trump might be quietly implementing the aggressive immigration enforcement he proposed during his campaign.
Candidate Trump promised to end the Dreamers program, though he recently said DACA is "a very, very difficult subject for me … because you have these incredible kids."
New documents filed by Ramirez's attorneys include a note written by Ramirez seeking to be moved out of a section of the Tacoma immigration detention center reserved for gang members. Detainees there must wear orange uniforms. In the note, Ramirez wrote that he never belonged to gangs and had no criminal history.
The rest of the document is a subject of controversy.
Authorities have singled out a sentence that reads, "I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear a orange uniform."
Ramirez's attorneys say the first seven words of the sentence were erased to change a statement into an admission of guilt, and a photograph appears to show smudge marks left by an eraser. His attorneys say the full sentence reads: "I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear a orange uniform."
One of Ramirez's attorneys, Theodore J. Boutrous, said the government had "launched a public campaign to smear Mr. Ramirez's reputation with a constantly shifting story of gang membership and criminal history. While the narrative has shifted multiple times in the last 48 hours alone, one thing has remained consistent: Their claims are all unsubstantiated and untrue."
According to Ramirez's detailed statement to the court, he awoke Feb. 10 in the small, barren suburban apartment he shared with family members suburban Des Moines, Wash., to find the room crowded with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
They came to arrest Ramirez's father, who has been deported and returned at least eight times, records show. The ICE agents also questioned Ramirez and his brother. They took Ramirez into custody but not the brother, who is also a DACA recipient.
Ramirez is the father of a 3-year-old son who lives with Ramirez's mother near Fresno. According to a statement by Ramirez in court documents, he said he was up to date with DACA requirements and had the papers to prove it.
But the agents kept asking about a tattoo, which spells out "La Paz – BCS" and includes a nautical star.
"When I was 18, I really liked the way tattoos looked, like a lot of people do," Ramirez said in the statement. So he had a friend do one on his forearm, he added. "La Paz is where I'm from. BCS stands for Baja California Sur, where La Paz is. I decided to go with my hometown because I have seen a lot of people do that."
Mark Rosenbaum, lead co-counsel for Ramirez, said, "We will continue to fight for Daniel's immediate release as long as the government continues its unjustified and unlawful detention. We appreciate the court's directive that Mr. Ramirez be granted a timely bond hearing in immigration court, which will allow us another opportunity to request his release."
Anderson is a special correspondent.