Federal agents have rounded up more than 600 immigrants in recent raids across the U.S., but one particular case in the Seattle area is proof, says one activist, that President Donald Trump has declared “open season” on individuals who entered the country illegally — including young people shielded from deportation by the Obama administration.
Last Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina at his father’s home in Washington state. Ramirez, who has a 3-year-old American citizen son and no criminal record, had twice qualified for the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed him to work legally in the U.S. and should have stopped the feds from picking him up.
While it doesn’t appear that Ramirez was targeted because of his DACA status, that protection wasn’t enough to prevent him from getting arrested — and that has immigration advocates and attorneys worried.
When ICE agents arrived, they had an arrest warrant for Ramirez’s father, who an ICE spokesperson described as “a prior-deported felon.” (The nature of his father’s criminal record remains unclear; ICE did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News.) Court documents say Ramirez was asleep when ICE showed up. “Are you legally here?” the agents asked Ramirez, according to the lawsuit.
“Yes, I have a work permit,” he reportedly replied, before declining to answer additional questions. At that point, Ramirez’s attorneys say, he was arrested and taken to an ICE field office south of Seattle.
Ramirez remains incarcerated at an immigrant detention center, and his attorneys have filed an unprecedented lawsuit alleging that ICE agents violated his rights by not respecting his DACA status.
According to that lawsuit, Ramirez was brought to the U.S. from Mexico in 2001 when he was 7 years old.
“If there’s any remaining doubt that the Trump administration has declared open season on all immigrants, including DACA recipients, look no further than this case,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for the immigrant rights group United We Dream. “Make no mistake: Everyone is a target.”
Trump repeatedly promised to crack down on illegal immigration during his campaign, and he signed two executive orders during his first week in office that broadened the “enforcement priorities” of federal agencies to target anyone who entered the country without authorization. It was unclear whether Trump’s orders would affect so-called Dreamers — undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children — but advocates said the detention of Ramirez suggests this group is now fair game too.
ICE has claimed that Ramirez confessed to being a gang member, and labeled him “a risk to public safety.” Ramirez’s attorney, Mark Rosenbaum, vehemently denied those allegations on Wednesday during an interview with VICE News.
“He was pressured to say that he was in a gang,” Rosenbaum said. “He refused — they persisted in doing that. He unequivocally stated that he has nothing to do with a gang, and frankly it’s insane to think he would.”
Rosenbaum noted that in order to qualify for DACA, Ramirez had to undergo a rigorous background check, which presumably would have turned up any gang affiliation disqualifying him from the program. He also disputed allegations by ICE that Ramirez has gang tattoos.
“If being tattooed and Latino qualifies you for being a gang member,” Rosenbaum said, “then our holding cells across the country are going to be overflowing.”
The lawsuit claims Ramirez repeatedly informed the ICE agents that he was a DACA recipient and produced his work permit as evidence. Court documents say the ICE agents told him, “It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country.”
Trump has indicated on several occasions that people who qualify for DACA would be excluded from his immigration crackdown. He most recently stated in December, “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.” But despite his reassurances, activists and attorneys have expressed concern that he would roll back the DACA program and potentially use information from it to deport the nearly 750,000 young people who have enrolled since Obama created it in 2012.
“We trust our government not to make false promises, not to play bait and switch with people,” Rosenbaum said. “That’s what happened here. A mistake has been made.”
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said that it was not uncommon for ICE to conduct immigration sweeps under the Obama administration that swept up bystanders in addition to specific targets, similar to the situation that led to Ramirez’s detention on Friday. She called these people “collaterals,” as in collateral damage, but said it was the first time a DACA recipient has been affected.
“Trump has created a culture of chaos within our immigration system,” Hincapie said. “We are at risk of having millions of people lose faith in our federal government.”
There’s no indication that the Trump administration intends to go after other DACA recipients; for now it appears that Ramirez was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the fact that ICE agents ignored his DACA status has put other young immigrants on alert.
“We know this isn’t an isolated case,” said Paul Quinones, a DACA recipient and leader with Washington Dream Act Coalition. “Although we don’t want to create unnecessary fear, we expect further attacks on our communities.”