Did the Government Doctor Legal Documents in Order to Illegally Deport a Dreamer?

Lawyers in Washington state say Homeland Security is engaging in misconduct to remove a man from the U.S.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer making an arrest.
Photo Credit: Duffman/Wikimedia Commons

As a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Daniel Ramirez-Medina’s status as a legal resident of the U.S. should have been fully ensured. Despite that protection, Ramirez-Medina was arrested by federal agents during a raid of his home near Seattle, Washington, on February 10. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contends Ramirez-Medina is a “self-admitted” gang member who filled out documentation attesting to that fact. But his attorneys say the document upon which the government’s case rests has been doctored to intentionally create a gang affiliation, and grounds for deportation, where none exists.

Ramirez-Medina is currently being held at a facility in Tacoma. Last week, he petitioned to be removed from a unit that houses gang members. In the request, Ramirez-Medina wrote, “I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear an orange uniform. I do not have a criminal history and I’m not affiliated with any gangs.” But according to his lawyers, when the document made its way back to Ramirez-Medina five days later, a key phrase had been deleted.

“I have gang affiliation with gangs so I wear an orange uniform,” the paperwork now read. “I do not have a criminal history and I’m not affiliated with any gangs.”

An image of the document shared by Washington-based news outlet The Stranger appears to show parts of the statement have been erased. Ramirez-Medina’s lawyers have filed a brief alleging the government tampered with the paper “in apparent attempt to cover up evidence that would, in fact, disprove their gang affiliation allegations.”

"Mr. Ramirez unequivocally denies being in a gang,” Mark Rosenbaum, one of Ramirez-Medina’s lawyers, told CNN. "While in custody, he was repeatedly pressured by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to falsely admit affiliation."

In court papers, the Department of Homeland Security cites a “gang tattoo” as additional evidence of Ramirez-Medina's criminal ties. The tattoo reads, “La Paz BCS.” As the Seattle Times notes, “La Paz means peace in Spanish, and is also the capital of Baja California Sur, the meaning behind the initials and the part of Mexico where Ramirez-Medina was born,” per his lawyers.

"What began, I thought, as a mistake in bringing Daniel in has turned into a bogus operation that is attempting to railroad him and violate the sacred program that the DACA represents," Mark Rosenbaum, another Ramirez-Medina attorney, told The Stranger. "It is one of the most serious examples of governmental misconduct that I have come across in my 40 years of practice."

Ramirez-Medina, who is 23 years old, arrived in the U.S. at age 7. He has reportedly received DACA protection twice, most recently in 2016, which should allow him legally to stay and work until 2018. According to Vox, he was stripped of his DACA legal protections following deportation proceedings on February 14. The outlet explains that the government’s case for deportation hinges on allegations of Ramirez-Medina’s gang involvement.

In theory, the government can take away an individual’s protection from deportation under DACA at any time, because DACA is officially a grant of “prosecutorial discretion” in an individual case rather than a formal grant of immigration status. Meanwhile, one of the reasons someone applying for DACA (for the first time, or for a two-year renewal) can be denied protection is if he’s deemed a threat to public safety—a category that includes gang affiliation.

A DHS statement regarding Ramirez-Medina’s case states that approximately 1,500 DACA recipients “have had their deferred action terminated due to a criminal conviction, gang affiliation, or a criminal conviction related to gang affiliation.” According to his lawyers, Ramirez-Medina has no criminal record. 

Ramirez-Medina is the first DACA-authorized immigrant to face removal and deportation under Trump. Those on both sides of the immigration issue are closely watching his case, which may set a frightening precedent for how Dreamers and DACA recipients are treated under this administration. In typical fashion, Trump has been playing both sides of the fence—often within the same statement—when discussing the immigration issue for those who arrived here as children and know no other home than the U.S.

"We're gonna show great heart," Trump told journalists at a press conference last week. "DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases. And some of the cases, having DACA and they're gang members and they're drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely, incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way, it's a very, it's a very, very tough subject."

"The president made clear that they don't yet have a plan on DACA, and the guidance issued...doesn't add anything to that," Kamal Essaheb, of the National Immigration Law Center, told CNN. "But we know better than to take DHS at its word on the issue: last week, we saw a breathtaking disregard for the protections promised under DACA or for sensitive locations. We cannot at this time offer a confident assessment of whether anyone—including those with DACA—are protected from enforcement."

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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