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US “dreamer” arrest fuels fears of extreme action against illegal migrants

Young Mexican under federal protection now faces deportation, raising concerns for 750,000 others

“This is a matter of concern for everyone. We cannot trust the federal government’s promises.” These words, spoken by lawyer Marielena Hincapié, illustrate the general feeling among legal experts on immigration issues following the recent detention in Seattle of a Mexican man who was protected under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Daniel Ramirez Medina in a picture released by his lawyers. AP

Daniel Ramírez Medina, 23, now faces deportation even though the US government promised him five years ago that this would not happen. Around 750,000 people who were brought into the US illegally as children enjoy DACA protection. The program was created in 2012 by Barack Obama to allow them to attend school and work, and recipients are popularly referred to as “dreamers.”

Under the program, Ramírez Medina, who now has a young son of his own, had obtained a work permit and held a job in the Seattle area.

On February 10, Ramírez was at his father’s house when immigration officers came in to arrest the latter, and also detained the son. This is the first known case of a DACA beneficiary facing deportation.

In a complaint filed by Ramírez and reported by Reuters, the reasons for the father’s arrest remain unclear. But according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ramírez has admitted to being a gang member.

His lawyers categorically deny this allegation, and say he was pressured into saying it during interrogation, Reuters reported. If no criminal record is produced and no reason for his detention provided, yet Ramírez finally gets deported, it will mean that every assumption about immigration in the US is coming under review.

It would also mean that Trump’s campaign promise of targeting the country’s 11 million undocumented migrants has become a reality.

Like Ramírez, the dreamers who applied for the DACA are people who “took a step forward and gave all their information to the federal government,” said Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, at a press conference on Wednesday morning.

The executive order is the broadest and most draconian we have ever seen

Marielena Hincapié, National Immigration Law Center

His detention “has broken the promise that the federal government made to Daniel and to all the others,” she said.

DACA recipients passed a background check before obtaining their permits, which get renewed every two years. They are individuals about whom the government has a lot of information, and who have undergone a process before obtaining their benefits.

Ramírez’s lawyers said on Tuesday that they hoped the detention is “a mistake.” But experts at United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center ruled out that ICE agents were acting on their own.

“They are applying Trump’s executive order,” said Hincapié.

During the first days of his administration, Trump signed an order coming down hard on illegal immigration and allocating resources to deportation procedures.

Donald Trump recently signed an executive order cracking down on illegal immigration. EFE

The order stated that people with criminal records would be a priority. That was already the case under Obama, the president who has deported the highest amount of illegal migrants in US history.

The trouble is that there seems to be quite a lot of latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a criminal to the Department of Homeland Security. Paul Quinones, leader of the Dream Act Coalition in Washington state, said that the department “is expanding the definition of what a criminal is.”

Last week, ICE conducted raids in 12 states and arrested 680 people. But despite protests to the contrary by immigrant rights activists, the department says that it is doing the same routine work it has been doing all along (the US deports thousands of people a week). The ICE added that 75% of detainees had a criminal record.

But rights groups say that Ramírez’s detention, added to the recent deportation of a mother of three who was living in Phoenix and had never before been an ICE priority, proves that Trump’s most extreme views about the treatment of unauthorized migrants are being applied.

“The executive order is the broadest and most draconian we have ever seen,” said Hincapié.

 English version by Susana Urra.

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