TACOMA, Wash. — A Mexican man who spent more than six weeks in immigration detention despite his participation in a program designed to prevent the deportation of those brought to the U.S. illegally as children was released from custody Wednesday pending deportation proceedings.
A smiling Daniel Ramirez Medina hugged his brother in the lobby of a detention centre as he was freed, then hugged him again for the news cameras outside. 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," it 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."
Judge John Odell in Tacoma approved freeing the 24-year-old Ramirez on $15,000 bond until his next immigration court hearing.
Immigration agents 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.
He spent 40 minutes answering questions from prosecutors during a two-hour hearing Tuesday, repeatedly denying any gang connections, his attorney, Mark Rosenbaum, said.
"He answered every question the government put to him," Rosenbaum said. "He stayed true, and the government had no evidence whatsoever."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement Wednesday confirming his release and noting that Ramirez's own 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.
Immigration agents arrested Ramirez on Feb. 10 at an apartment complex where they had gone to arrest his father, a previously deported felon.
Ramirez, who came to the U.S. at 7, has no criminal record and twice passed background checks to participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country and work.
Immigration officials have started deportation proceedings against him.
His legal team, which includes the Los Angeles based pro-bono firm Public Counsel as well as Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, have pressed claims in federal court that the arrest and detention violated Ramirez's constitutional rights. They sought to keep the case out of immigration court, saying U.S. District Court was better suited to handle those claims.
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 him last week, saying he instead should challenge his detention in immigration court.
Martinez nevertheless said "many questions remain regarding the appropriateness of the government's conduct" in arresting him.
Among those questions, his lawyers have said, is whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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 Monday that it targeted Rodriguez Dominguez because of the DUI and that he would be released on bond pending deportation proceedings.
About 750,000 immigrants have enrolled in the DACA program since it began.
Gene Johnson, The Associated Press