Seattle Man Faces Deportation in `Dreamer' Test Under Trump

  • 23-year-old who came from Mexico as child has protected status
  • His lawyers dispute U.S. claim of gang ties in federal lawsuit

A legal showdown over a 23-year-old Seattle man threatened with deportation to Mexico after he was granted protected status for having entered the U.S. as a child may become an early test of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

While the U.S. claims Daniel Ramirez Medina admitted in custody to being a gang member, his lawyers contend he was falsely accused and is being unlawfully detained amid recent sweeps by agents across at least a half-dozen states that have netted some immigrants with no criminal records. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in Seattle federal court.

Medina is among 1.4 million undocumented immigrants with permission to stay in the U.S. under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, which provides work permits to those brought into the country illegally as children.

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President Donald Trump said on Thursday he’s struggling with what to do about people in that program. He’s suggested previously that he is considering leaving it in place.

"DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you," Trump said at a White House news conference Thursday. “In 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.”

“We’re going to deal with DACA with heart,” he said.

Apprehended by ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday announced the arrest of more than 680 people during a week-long series of enforcement actions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City. Of those arrested, about 75 percent were identified as "criminal aliens," according to the agency.

Medina was detained Feb. 10 after ICE agents arrived at his residence with an arrest warrant for his father. Medina was questioned about his legal status in the country, to which he explained that he had a work permit, according to his lawsuit.

He claims he was in custody for 70 hours without admitting to a crime. His interaction with ICE officials was limited to questions about his status, including one exchange in which he reminded the agents of his work permit. They allegedly responded, “It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country."

‘Gang Tattoo’

The Justice Department says Medina was asked by ICE officials about his tattoos, and one in particular on his forearm that ICE refers to as a “gang tattoo.” Medina allegedly told the agents he used to hang out with a gang in California before fleeing to Washington state. In Seattle, he “still hangs out” with another gang, according to the government’s court filing on Thursday.

The admission triggered the start of Medina’s deportation proceedings, despite his having twice received permission to stay in the U.S. under DACA, which is also known as the “Dreamer” program. The government claims Medina’s case isn’t unique and doesn’t signal new immigration policy under the Trump administration, since Medina admitted to “gang activity."

“DACA is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion and deferred action may be terminated at any time, with or without a notice of intent to terminate," the government said in a court filing. ”In light of this fact, there are critical limitations on the court’s ability to grant petitioner any relief at this this time."

Medina’s lawyers say his lawsuit, seeking his immediate release, is the first of its kind challenging the detention of a Dreamer. Not only are the allegations about his gang affiliation false, but they only surfaced when a written report on his detention was altered, said Mark Rosenbaum, one of Medina’s attorneys.

“It’s clear that at least the agents in Seattle, they do not respect the DACA program," Rosenbaum said. “Having been caught in a mistake, rather than do the honorable thing they undertook a concerted effort to create a bogus narrative so they wouldn’t have to acknowledge the mistake itself."

If ICE continues to pursue his deportation without evidence of criminal conduct, it could “send a wave of panic” across America’s Latino community, said Raha Jorjani, an immigration defense attorney with the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office in Oakland, California.

“I really hope that is not the path they choose," she said. “We don’t have all the facts. “I don’t have all the facts at this point. If this individual had any negative contact with the police, or is alleged to have committed the essential elements of a crime, then ICE’s conduct would be less surprising to me."

The case is Medina v. Asher, 2:17-cv-00218, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).

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