SEATTLE, Washington — Immigrant rights groups are reeling after the arrest of Daniel Ramirez Medina last week, a so-called “DREAMer” who they say is currently authorized to live and work in the United States under a program established by the President Barack Obama administration.
While his lawyers call Ramirez a “law abiding” young father, federal immigration officials have an entirely different label: “self-admitted gang member.”
The arrest is a wake-up call for the groups, which have been increasingly nervous about how the Trump administration will move forward on immigration. They hope that Ramirez’s arrest is an isolated incident and does not indicate that the Department of Homeland Security is proceeding in a new direction when it comes to individuals brought to the US as undocumented children.
President Donald Trump told ABC News last month that he plans to address the issue with his new attorney general. When asked whether DREAMers should be worried, President Trump said, “They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart.”
The conflicting accounts of Ramirez’s arrest reveal the raw tension between the two sides. President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan in 2012.
“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people,” Obama told an audience in the Rose Garden. He called DREAMers “young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag.”
The legal brief filed on behalf of Ramirez has sweeping language, stressing the extensive steps qualifying individuals must take, including submitting to a background check and turning over highly sensitive information.
“As a result, hundreds of thousands of individuals applied for, and were granted, deferred action,” the lawyers said, adding that the federal government “has, until now, lived up to their promise.”
When Ramirez’ case came to light Tuesday night, Karen Tumlin, the legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, was quick to react.
“This is the Trump deportation machine in action,” she said. “This young man’s case is exactly what happens when you have no priorities for your immigration policy. This young man was carefully vetted by the Obama administration, cleared background checks and it was determined he was not a priority for removal, and, in fact, it is a benefit for him and people like him to be able to live and work here.”
But Rose Richardson, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Ramirez was picked up “during an operation targeting a prior-deported felon” and that he was also taken into custody based on “his admitted gang affiliation and risk to public safety.”
Indeed, under the DACA guidelines, an individual would be determined to be a public safety threat if there was any indication of gang membership.
“While it is not common, ICE has arrested previous DACA recipients during enforcement operations in the past who, by their criminal conviction(s) or affiliation, fall into ICE enforcement priorities, including threats to national security or public safety” a different ICE spokesman said on background.
Ramirez’s lawyers deny the allegation, calling it “preposterous.”
One of his lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum, told CNN he is unaware of “any case in the US where a DACA beneficiary has been brought into immigration proceedings” absent a criminal charge. He said there may have been other arrests for those with criminal charges against them but that his client’s record is clean and he is not affiliated with any gangs.
Stephen H. Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law, was part of the team in the Obama administration that drafted the 2012 program.
He is concerned about the future of DACA, noting that the existing work permits will expire two years from now unless the new President chooses to continue the program.
But Legomsky’s main concern is that DACA recipients provided confidential information to the government.
“The government induced people to apply to DACA by promising to keep their information confidential, and I now worry that the Trump administration will use that very information to deport these individuals who were brought to the US as children,” he said.