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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on February 9, 2017. Courtesy Bryan Cox/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
By Daniel Levine and Kristina Cooke
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have arrested an immigrant from Mexico who was brought to the United States illegally as a child and later given a work permit during the Obama administration in what could be the first detention of its kind under President Donald Trump.
Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old with no criminal record, was taken into custody last week at his father's home in Seattle by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The officers arrived at the home to arrest the man's father, though court documents did not make clear the reason the father was taken into custody.
Ramirez, now in custody in Tacoma, Washington, was granted temporary permission to live and work legally in the United States under a programme called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, established in 2012 by Democratic President Obama, according to a court filing.
The programme protects from deportation 750,000 people who were brought to the United States illegally as children, sometimes called the "dreamers," and gives them the temporary right to work legally in the United States.
Trump, a Republican who took office on Jan. 20, has promised a crackdown on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of whom come from Mexico and other Latin American countries. A move against DACA recipients like Ramirez would represent a significant broadening of immigration enforcement under Trump.
Ramirez filed a challenge to his detention in Seattle federal court on Monday, arguing that the government violated his constitutional rights because he had work authorization under the DACA programme.
Ethan Dettmer, a partner in the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher who is one of the lawyers representing Ramirez, said he is not aware of any other DACA recipient who has been arrested.
"We are hoping this detention was a mistake," Dettmer said.
A BROKEN PROMISE?
Another one of his lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum of the legal advocacy group Public Counsel, characterized the DACA programme as a promise from the federal government's executive branch that DACA recipients would not be targeted for deportation.
"We have no reason to believe that promise will be broken. This case should not see the inside of a courtroom," Rosenbaum said.
Ramirez was in custody and unavailable for comment. Representatives for Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined immediate comment on the lawsuit.
Emily Langley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Seattle, said the Justice Department is still reviewing the case.
U.S. immigration officers last week arrested more than 680 people in the country illegally. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the operations, conducted in at least a dozen states, were routine and consistent with regular operations. But immigrant advocacy groups and Democrats have expressed concern that the Trump administration will escalate immigration enforcement efforts in line with the president's tough stance towards illegal immigrants.
Trump campaigned on a promise to roll back Obama's executive actions on immigration, but since assuming office he has kept his public comments on DACA vague.
In an interview with ABC News last month, Trump said his administration was devising a policy on how to deal with people covered by DACA. "They are here illegally. They shouldn't be very worried. I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody. We're going to have a very strong border," Trump said at the time.
Under DACA, the government collected information including participants' addresses that potentially could be used to locate and deport them if the programme is reversed.
Ramirez was brought to the United States from Mexico in about 2001 at about age 7, according to the lawsuit. The government granted him a DACA card in 2014 and renewed it in 2016, finding that he was no threat to public safety. He has a 3-year-old son, according to the complaint.
Ramirez in his lawsuit is seeking his immediate release and an injunction forbidding the government from arresting him again. A hearing in the case has been scheduled for Friday.
According to the lawsuit, Ramirez was asleep at his father's home last Friday morning when ICE agents arrived and arrested the father. When they entered, they asked Ramirez if he was in the country legally, and Ramirez said he had a work permit, the lawsuit stated.
ICE agents took Ramirez to a processing centre in Seattle and he again disclosed his DACA work permit, the lawsuit stated.
"It doesn't matter, because you weren't born in this country," one of the agents said, according to the lawsuit.
Ramirez was fingerprinted, booked and taken to a detention centre in Tacoma where he was still in custody on Tuesday, Rosenbaum said.
(Additional reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle; Editing by Sue Horton and Will Dunham)