The arrest of a 23-year-old man living and working in Washington state under a federal program for young immigrants is rattling others like him in Southern California.
Federal agents arrested Daniel Medina Ramirez last week at his father’s home near Seattle. His attorneys say the agents were looking for his father, but Medina was also detained.
Medina, who entered the U.S. illegally as a minor, had been granted temporary legal status and a work permit under a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
The 2012 Obama administration program provides temporary protection from deportation and work permits to 750,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. by their families as children. Those in the program can renew their stay every two years.
Immigration officials arrested Medina because they say he is an admitted gang member. But Mark Rosenbaum, a Los Angeles attorney with Public Counsel who is on a team representing him, said Medina has no criminal record.
“That is a baseless claim," Rosenbaum told KPCC on Wednesday. "First, there are no criminal charges. You can check any criminal database.”
Rosenbaum said he believes the arrest was a mistake. He stressed that Medina's DACA status had been renewed, meaning he had been reviewed more than once for the program by the government.
Federal officials said they had the right to arrest him, asserting that other DACA recipients have had their deferred action status revoked.
"Since the start of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, approximately 1,500 recipients have had their deferred action terminated due to a criminal conviction, gang affiliation, or a criminal conviction related to gang affiliation," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under which immigration enforcement agents operate, said in a statement.
Immigration officials would not provide details on how they determined Medina's alleged gang affiliation before he was arrested.
His attorneys have filed a petition in federal court seeking his release.
News of the arrest has rattled other DACA recipients, among them Iliana Perez, a doctorate candidate at Claremont Graduate University.
Perez arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 8 with family members who overstayed their temporary visas. She first got her DACA approval four years ago. Like Medina, Perez recently had her status renewed for two years.
“So the fact that this happened ... that puts all of us thinking, 'So should we even be walking around in the street?'” Perez said. "What sort of protection do we have then? Especially given the fact that all of our information is in the system."
The arrest has also raised questions about the future of DACA. So far, despite an otherwise stringent approach to immigration, President Donald Trump has not said he will rescind it.
Legal experts say that unless the Trump administration revokes the program, DACA recipients should still be protected. For now, Medina's arrest appears to be isolated, said Kevin Johnson, the dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Law.
"I don't think it really suggests that this is going to happen much in the future, absent the revocation of DACA, or something like that," Johnson said.
Rosenbaum said DACA recipients still have the law on their side. "DACA is as much on the books today as it was in 2012 when the Department of Homeland Security set it up," he said.
"I would say to DACA beneficiaries that if you continue to do your part, the government must honor its part," he said.