SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle area man detained by immigration agents despite his participation in a federal program to protect those brought to the U.S. illegally as children admitted to having gang ties, the U.S. Justice Department said in court documents filed Thursday.
However, Daniel Ramirez Medina’s lawyer Mark Rosenbaum said in a conference call late Thursday that the documents fail to provide even one piece of evidence that Ramirez is affiliated with any gang.
“It is a blatant falsehood that defames this young man, I suppose, to justify what was a mistake at the beginning,” Rosenbaum said of the 23-year-old’s arrest and detention by immigration agents Friday.
The government said in documents filed in U.S. District Court that Ramirez “stated ‘no, not no more,’ when asked if he is or has been involved with any gang activity.”
The court documents also said Ramirez, who is Mexican and arrived in the U.S. at age 7, was asked by authorities who arrested him about a tattoo described in the documents as a “gang tattoo.”
Ramirez responded that he hung around members of the Surenos gang in California, fled the state to escape gangs and also hung out with gang members in Washington state, the documents said.
Ramirez’s arrest last week thrust him into a national debate over the immigration priorities of President Donald Trump. Some saw the detention as the opening salvo in an attack on former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, while federal authorities suggested it was simply a routine exercise of their authority.
Rosenbaum said the federal allegations were false and that authorities misidentified the one tattoo on Ramirez’s body.
“Mr. Ramirez did not say these things because they are not true,” Rosenbaum said. “And while utterly implausible and wholly fabricated, these claims still would not be sufficient evidence that Mr. Ramirez is a threat to the public safety or national security.”
The court documents blacked out a picture of the tattoo, but lawyers for Ramirez said it reads “La Paz BCS.” La Paz means “Peace” in Spanish and is also the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, where Ramirez was born.
Rosenbaum also accused Imigration and Customs Enforcement officials of doctoring a form filled out by Ramirez asking to be transferred out of the gang unit at the detention center. Ramirez wrote on the paper that he is not a member of a gang and that’s he’s never been involved in gang activity, Rosenbaum said. But when Ramirez was denied the move and got a copy of the paper back, Rosenbaum said, some of the words had been erased, making the statement appear as though Ramirez had written that he was in a gang.
“You can see that there are words that have been erased. That is serious and criminal conduct,” Rosenbaum said.
The government has also given varying accounts of where and when Ramirez allegedly talked to agents about gang involvement, Rosenbaum said.
An ICE spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ramirez is the father of a 3-year-old son who is a U.S. citizen, his lawyers have said. He worked as a field hand picking fruit in California before moving to Washington, and he twice passed background checks to participate in the DACA program — most recently last spring, they said. An attorney for Ramirez also said Thursday that Ramirez has been emotionally distraught.
The government’s filing confirmed that Ramirez has no criminal record, but said he told authorities he was recently arrested for speeding.
Immigration agents found him last Friday when they went to an apartment complex in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines to arrest his father, identified as Antonio Ramirez-Polendo. Ramirez-Polendo was deported eight times between 2000 and 2006, ICE said Thursday, and served a year in prison in Washington state for felony drug trafficking.
The DACA program — referred to as “Dreamers” by supporters and derided as “illegal amnesty” by critics — has protected about 750,000 immigrants since its inception in 2012. It allows young people who were brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Ramirez was being held at a detention center in Tacoma pending deportation proceedings. The statement said participants can have their status revoked if they’re found to pose a threat to national security or public safety.
About 1,500 immigrants granted DACA status since 2012 have had it revoked because of criminal convictions or gang affiliations.
Trump told a news conference Thursday that he intended to “deal with DACA with heart.”
“The DACA situation is a very, very, it’s a very difficult thing for me because, you know, I love these kids,” Trump said. “I love kids. I have kids and grandkids.”
Associated Press writer Martha Bellisle in Seattle contributed to this report.