Sounding a bit annoyed, U.S. immigration and Justice Department attorneys deny that federal officers erased or changed a statement written by a Seattle "Dreamer" who is fighting to avoid deportation.
Nor did Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make up claims about street-gang connections attributed to Mexico-born Daniel Ramirez Medina when he was arrested with his immigrant father in a Seattle suburb, Des Moines, on Feb. 5, the government says in newly filed responses to Ramirez's civil lawsuit in federal court here.
Ramirez's case has garnered attention nationwide because he was enrolled in an Obama-era program that shields from deportation certain immigrants brought to the country as children. His detention also came after the Trump administration promised to crack down more forcefully on illegal immigration.
Now 23, Ramirez was brought to the U.S. illegally at age 7 by his parents, and later obtained protective status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Known as Dreamers, those who qualify can remain in the U.S. for renewable 2-year periods without worry of being deported unless they commit a crime. Then-President Obama approved the program as a goodwill gesture to offspring who would otherwise lack a homeland.
Ramirez says he'd broken no law and his attorneys say the deportation case against him is untrue and unfair.
Similar claims have been raised by a Dreamer in Mississippi who is also facing deportation. Daniela Vargas, 22, says she was targeted by ICE after recently speaking at a news conference about her hopes for immigration reform. "Daniela's case is representative of the mean-spirited and misguided immigration policy of this administration," said her attorney, Michelle Lapointe of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
But the government, in its responses to Ramirez's legal actions taking place in federal district and immigration courts in Seattle, says other Dreamers have been arrested and deported in recent years and the action taken against Ramirez is not necessarily a change in policy.
Ramirez had claimed that a line of his post-arrest statement was altered.
A photograph appears to also show smudge marks left by an eraser. The full sentence, which refers to orange outfits given to gang members in custody, reads: "I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear a orange uniform."
Ramirez's attorneys allege the first seven words were erased, turning the remaining line — "I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear a orange uniform" — into a confession of gang activity.
Jeffrey Robins, a Justice Department assistant director, said in the court filing that the appearance of the statement can be blamed on the use of two pens.
Ramirez "wrote his entire statement in ink, the initial pen that Petitioner used did not write well, and there are no indications that anyone sought to tamper with the document," Robins wrote. "Moreover, the claim that an ICE contractor erased the first seven words does not make any sense both because these seven words are legible." Even without the words, "it is clear that Petitioner is denying, rather than admitting, to gang affiliation."
In any event, the government maintains that Ramirez has gang ties — and that such affiliation ends his DACA status. The government alleges he has a gang tattoo, which Ramirez says is the name of his hometown, La Paz, in the state of Baja California Sur.
Robins said Ramirez also missed his chance at freedom, which is the goal of his district court action. He failed to request an initial bond hearing, but when the immigration court scheduled such a hearing, his attorneys requested it be cancelled.
"Had his attorneys not taken this step, it is possible the immigration court would have ordered Petitioner released, mooting out this part of the case," states Robins. The issue may come up again in two weeks at the next scheduled immigration court session.
Last week, Ramirez's father, Antonio Ramirez Polendo, the original target of the ICE agents at the family apartment, was charged with illegal reentry into the United States. Since 2000, he has been arrested for similar violations seven times, and deported seven times. He also has a 2004 conviction for drug trafficking.
Anderson is a special correspondent.