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The first “Dreamer” arrested by ICE under Trump is stuck in legal limbo

A Wednesday hearing for Daniel Ramirez Medina, the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient to be detained by Trump administration immigration officials, yielded few answers for the 750,000 DACA recipients in the United States wondering what their future holds.

Scolding Department of Justice attorneys for filing a brief so late on Tuesday night that he couldn’t review it that day, Judge James Donohue Donohue declined to release Ramirez or to rule on one of the Seattle case’s main issues, which is under whose jurisdiction the case should fall. The Department of Justice would like to try the case in immigration court; Ramirez’s lawyers say district court is the best place to deal with the case’s constitutional consequences.


Like all DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers, Ramirez arrived in the United States as an undocumented child and now has temporary permission to legally live and work in the country. But in February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents encountered Ramirez during an unrelated search for Ramirez’s father, described by ICE as “a prior-deported felon” who has since been reportedly charged. During the search, one agent allegedly stopped Ramirez and asked, “Are you here legally?” Though Ramirez said he was, the agents took him into custody anyway.

Ramirez’s DACA protection was later revoked and he’s now technically in the country illegally.

“We shouldn’t have to get down on our knees to get them to respect DACA status,” Ramirez’s lawyer Mark Rosenbaum said in the Wednesday hearing. Because the ICE agents arrested Ramirez without probable cause, he argued, they had no right to take away his DACA protection. “The government’s only answer is that DACA is written in invisible ink.”

At Ramirez’s original hearing on Feb. 17, Judge Donohue ruled that only an immigration court could release Ramirez. Still, he said that because of the case’s national importance, he wanted a bond hearing set in immigration court within a week. But Ramirez’s lawyers never requested it, and so the hearing was never held.

That’s because immigration courts oversee deportation proceedings, and they say that’s not what’s this case is about. DACA recipients give the government extensive information about themselves and undergo rigorous background checks under the trust and belief that they are immune from arrest or deportation due to their immigration status, Ramirez’s lawyers argued in a motion filed Friday. They say Ramirez isn’t fighting a deportation issue, but an unconstitutional arrest and detention.


“By arresting Mr. Ramirez, and then using the information he disclosed against him, the government has broken those promises and engaged in an unconstitutional bait-and-switch,” their motion reads. And immigration courts just don’t have the ability to rule on the case’s constitutional issues, Ramirez’s lawyers argue.

But in the Wednesday hearing, Department of Justice attorneys argued that the administration isn’t using any new policies or procedures and stressed that DACA isn’t a status, but a set of benefits that the Department of Homeland Security can revoke at any time. If a person wishes to challenge the loss of those benefits, they can go to appeals court, a process that can take years. But they say Ramirez’s case is standard and belongs before an immigration court.

Whether or not that’s true is a question that could affect thousands of young immigrants.

Though Ramirez was the first DACA recipient to be detained under the Trump administration, he wasn’t the last. Shortly after Ramirez’s detention, ICE took 19-year-oild DREAMer Jose Romero into custody in San Antonio, according to the Guardian. Last week, 22-year-old Daniela Vergas was also detained in Jackson, Miss., shortly after giving a press conference where she spoke about her family’s arrival in the United States, CNN reported. Though Vergas was in the process of renewing her DACA protection when she was taken into custody, it lapsed in November, Vergas’ lawyers said. Vergas couldn’t afford the nearly $500 renewal fee.


Regardless of how Ramirez’s case ultimately turns out, former American Immigration Lawyers Association President David Leopold thinks that the message to DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants is already clear.

“The signal’s already been sent by his arrest, by his prosecution for deportation, by the arrest of the [Vergas] after she gave a speech,” he said. “I think [the government is] creating panic. They’re creating fear among the DREAMer community and among the larger community.”

“The good news is,” he added, “what’s going on is that immigrants are sitting down and they’re learning their rights.”

Ramirez’s attorneys have until Friday to file a final brief, while Donohue said he will make a decision on whether to release Ramirez early next week. And in the meantime, his lawyers said, Ramirez will turn 24 tomorrow.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.