Reuters International

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. officials have initiated deportation proceedings against a Mexican immigrant with a work permit who was arrested near Seattle last week because of alleged gang ties, according to a court filing from the Justice Department on Thursday.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, was taken into custody last week at his father's home near Seattle by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, according to a lawsuit he filed challenging his detention. The lawsuit said he was brought to the United States illegally as a child and given a work permit during the administration of former President Barack Obama.

Ramirez's lawyers have denied he was a member of a gang, and his lawsuit said he has no criminal record.

On Monday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said immigration officers last week arrested more than 680 people in the country illegally. The broad enforcement action alarmed immigrant rights groups.

The Justice Department's Thursday filing said ICE officers questioned Ramirez about a "gang tattoo" on his forearm. Ramirez responded that he "used to hang out with the Sureno's in California," but “fled California to escape from the gangs,” according to the government brief.

Ramirez then told officials that he "still hangs out with the Paizas in Washington State," government lawyers said in their court filing.

Ramirez's lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment about those allegations.

The brief asserted that a Seattle federal judge has no legal basis to consider Ramirez's lawsuit because ICE has initiated deportation proceedings to be adjudicated in a separate administrative court.

Ramirez has asked the judge to order his release immediately. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Ramirez's lawyers have said this could be the first time under U.S. President Donald Trump that a person covered by a policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has been taken into immigration custody.

DACA, established by Obama in 2012, allows those brought to the country while young, sometimes referred to as "dreamers", to attend school and work. The programme protects from deportation some 750,000 people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said that since 2012, when Obama was president, about 1,500 DACA recipients have had their permits terminated due to a criminal conviction or gang affiliation.

Under Obama administration guidance from 2014, gang activity would make someone a deportation priority only if the person had been convicted of an offence in connection with the gang, although immigration officials were given room for discretion. Reuters could not determine whether gang members who had not committed crimes were deported during Obama's tenure.

(Additional reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle; Editing by David Gregorio)

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