Lawyers for detained DREAMer accuse government of intentionally tampering documents

Someone may have erased a key part of the document saying he’s not in a gang.

Foreign nationals were arrested this week during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CREDIT: Bryan Cox/ U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency
Foreign nationals were arrested this week during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CREDIT: Bryan Cox/ U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency

Lawyers for Daniel Ramirez Medina — a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant twice granted temporary deportation protection under the Obama administration — are accusing the federal government of intentionally altering documents to show gang membership to justify his detention.

Federal officials have accused Ramirez Medina, who in official court documents uses “Ramirez” as his surname, of being a “gang member” due to his “admitted gang affiliation and risk to public safety.” As evidence, they said that he used to be and continues to be affiliated with members of the Sureños gang. Officials also presented his forearm tattoo which reads, “La Paz BCS” as evidence. The Seattle Times reported that La Paz means “peace” in Spanish, while BCS stands for “Baja California Sur,” the place in Mexico where he was born.

Lawyers presented documents to the media that appeared to be tampered with, showing that parts of Ramirez’s declaration — written to be placed out of a gang unit in the detention center — had been erased. That note originally read, “I came in and the officers said I have gang affiliation … so I wear an orange uniform.” But the first line was ostensibly erased so Ramirez’s testimony instead started with, “I have gang affiliation.” The Seattle Times reported, “Altered or not, the note still ended with him repeating that he was not affiliated with gangs.”

According to a government brief, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents went to Ramirez’s home last Friday to arrest his father who had been deported multiple times and was convicted of narcotics trafficking. Ramirez answered affirmatively when government agents asked if he had been arrested before. He has since been detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington for the past seven days.

In a press statement released Thursday, the ICE agency claimed Ramirez’s case was illustrative of ICE agents pursuing “public safety threats from our communities when they encounter them.”

Ramirez’s lawyers have denied these allegations, saying that he had been coerced into falsely admitting gang membership. Ethan Dettmer, a partner in the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and one of Ramirez’s lawyers told Reuters that he was “repeatedly pressured by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to falsely admit affiliation.”

“He has no criminal record, there are no criminal charges pending against him, no criminal convictions, all the criminal justice databases are clear with respect to him,” Mark Rosenbaum, Ramirez’s lawyer, said according to a local ABC affiliate. While Ramirez has a traffic ticket, local law enforcement do not have him in any database listing gang affiliation.

In reality, it’s either that Ramirez is not a gang member or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did a poor job vetting him when they issued his latest work permit on May 6, 2016. Without referencing Ramirez’s case, President Donald Trump also hinted Thursday that he had empathy for DACA recipients and their situation, but he also believed that some of them were gang members and drug dealers.

The DACA program does not admit criminals or gang members and explicitly asks details about gang membership. It is a federal felony to lie on the DACA application forms, with applicants having to swear under penalty of perjury that the information they provide is true. The penalty could include a fine or imprisonment up to five years.

Tampering with Ramirez’s documents is egregious, but coercion tactics are nothing new, according to some immigrant advocates.

“We have documented many times where ICE has coerced people in immigration detention to sign forms they do not understand,” Christina Fialho, the co-founder of the immigrant visitation program Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), told ThinkProgress. “ICE uses an array of deceiving and disturbing tactics to coerce, from not providing immigrants in detention with documents in the language of choice to even physical abuse.”

Forcing detainees to sign documents is rampant in other detention centers. A CIVIC-led complaint filed against the Etowah County Detention Center (ECDC) in Alabama found that ICE agents have ordered detainees to sign papers without allowing them to read the papers they signed; have beaten up people who refuse to sign removal documents; or used thumbprints as a signature after they were subdued.

Ramirez has been in the national spotlight since becoming one of nearly 700 people detained in nationwide enforcement raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency last week. The raids come weeks after Trump signed an executive order expanding the kind of crimes that could be punishable by deportation.