‘He’s free to go’: Mexican man has hope for future

Gene Johnson
Associated Press

Tacoma, Wash. — Their hug was silent, their smiles broad.

A Mexican man who had been arrested despite his participation in a program designed to prevent the deportation of those brought to the U.S. illegally as children walked free after more than six weeks in custody.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, 24, is facing deportation proceedings but greeting his brother — also a participant in the program — on Wednesday in the lobby of the Federal Detention Center in Tacoma marked the culmination of weeks of legal fighting.

“He’s free to go,” a guard told them.

After conferring with one of his lawyers, Ramirez stepped into the sunshine and hugged his brother again for a crowd of news cameras waiting just beyond the chain-link and barbed-wire fence.

He spoke to reporters briefly in Spanish, thanking his supporters, and later issued a written statement in English through his lawyers.

“I’m so happy to be reunited with my family today and can’t wait to see my son,” the statement said. “This has been a long and hard 46 days, but I’m so thankful for the support that I’ve gotten from everyone who helped me and for the opportunity to live in such an amazing country.

“I know that this isn’t over, but I’m hopeful for the future, for me and for the hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers who love this country like I do,” referring to what some call young people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

A day earlier, Judge John Odell in Tacoma approved releasing Ramirez on $15,000 bond until his next immigration court hearing. Agents had arrested him last month in suburban Seattle, saying he acknowledged affiliating with gangs. Officials then revoked his protected status.

Ramirez adamantly denies any gang ties or making any such admission.

“The government had no evidence whatsoever,” his attorney, Mark Rosenbaum, said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement Wednesday that Ramirez’s attorneys had twice declined to have their client participate in bond hearings that could have resulted in his earlier release — something his lawyers said was designed to keep his case in federal court, rather than immigration court.

Ramirez, who came to the U.S. at 7, has no criminal record and twice passed background checks to participate in the DACA program allowing those brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay and work.

Immigration agents had gone to arrest Ramirez’s father, a previously deported felon, at an apartment complex Feb. 10 when they took Ramirez into custody.

His legal team, which includes the Los Angeles-based pro bono firm Public Counsel and Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, pressed claims in federal court that the arrest and detention violated Ramirez’s constitutional rights.

A federal magistrate judge in Seattle agreed to hear the constitutional claims but declined to release him in the meantime. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez upheld the decision not to release Ramirez last week, saying he instead should challenge his detention in immigration court.

But Martinez said “many questions remain regarding the appropriateness of the government’s conduct” in arresting him.

Among those questions, his lawyers have said, is whether ICE agents misinterpreted a tattoo on his forearm when they described it as a “gang tattoo” in an arrest report. The lawyers say the tattoo, which says “La Paz BCS,” pays homage to the city of La Paz in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, where he was born.

Ramirez’s case is one of several recent arrests that have left immigration activists fearing an erosion of protections under the DACA program instituted by President Barack Obama in 2012.

ICE agents in Portland, Oregon, on Sunday arrested Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez, a DACA participant who was brought to the U.S. from Morelia, in Mexico’s Michoacan state, at age 5.

Last December, he entered a diversion program following a drunken driving arrest and had attended all his court dates and required meetings, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said in a statement.

The agency said it targeted Rodriguez Dominguez because of the DUI and that he would be released on bond pending deportation proceedings.