SEATTLE – A federal magistrate said Wednesday he expects to decide early next week whether to free a Mexican man who was picked up by immigration agents near Seattle despite participating in a federal program for those brought to the country illegally as children.
Daniel Ramirez Medina argued that his arrest and detention violate his constitutional rights, and his case has focused attention on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as President Donald Trump adopts a harder line on immigration.
Ramirez has been held in an immigration jail for nearly four weeks and will spend his 24th birthday in custody on Thursday. U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue said he had hoped to issue a ruling Wednesday on Ramirez' detention but that his lawyers need more time to respond to new arguments submitted by government lawyers.
Ramirez, who came to the U.S. with his family at age 7, has no criminal record and twice passed background checks to participate in the DACA program, which allows young people brought to the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.
Immigration agents arrested his father, described as a previously deported felon, outside a suburban apartment complex on Feb. 10. They found Ramirez inside and arrested him too.
In arrest reports, immigration agents said Ramirez admitted having gang ties and had a gang tattoo on his forearm. Such indications of a threat to public safety can provide grounds for canceling someone's participation in DACA as a threat to public safety, the government maintains.
But Ramirez's attorneys have denied both allegations, saying the supposed gang tattoo pays homage to the city of La Paz in Mexico's Baja California Sur state where he was born.
Wednesday's arguments focused on the Justice Department's efforts to dismiss the case submitted by Ramirez seeking his release.
Department lawyer Jeffrey Robins argued that participation in the program can be revoked at any time. He also said that under federal immigration law, Ramirez can challenge his detention in immigration court, a system within the Justice Department.
If he doesn't like the result in immigration court, Robins said, he can take his constitutional arguments to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- even though that could mean a long delay in the case being resolved.
"Four or five years after the fact?" Donohue asked.
"That may be the case," Robins responded, though he noted Ramirez might be entitled release on bail while waiting for the case to be heard.
Donohue asked if immigration agents set up a roadblock to find and arrest DACA participants despite earlier promises to let them stay and work, whether those detained would be allowed to immediately challenge their detention in federal court rather than waiting for an appeal of a negative ruling by an immigration judge.
Robins suggested they would not have that option, drawing an incredulous response from one of Ramirez's lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum, who suggested the detained program participants could languish for years in detention centers.
"They can round up Latino individuals, bring them down to their facility and say, `If you're a citizen, you go. If you're a legal permanent resident, you can go. But if you're DACA, you stay,"' he said. "Those individuals can just rot in that facility."
Since President Barack Obama created it in 2012, the program has protected about 750,000 immigrants, but it's been derided as "illegal amnesty" by critics.
Trump has taken no steps to undo the program, and the government has argued that Ramirez's arrest does not signal a policy shift.
A decision by Donohue to release Ramirez would send a strong message of support to DACA participants nationwide, said Theodore Boutrous Jr., another attorney for Ramirez.