Photo: Gene Johnson (AP images)

A federal judge in Seattle this week put a stop to an ongoing effort by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to falsely paint a 24-year-old DACA recipient as an active member of a street gang.

In February 2017, Daniel Ramirez became the first known DACA recipient to be arrested and detained by ICE agents as part of President Donald Trump’s escalated attacks on immigrant communities. ICE officials insisted that the arrest stemmed from what they called Ramirez’ “self-admitted” gang status. As it turns out, this charge is based in large part on a tattoo Ramirez has. The tattoo features the words “La Paz BCS”—a reference to his birthplace in Baja California Sur—and looks nothing like a gang logo.

Ramirez’s attorneys have since accused ICE of doctoring their clients’ paperwork to bolster their allegation. They also filed a lawsuit against the agency, claiming that ICE’s attempts to have him deported had violated his due process rights.

As Slate reported on Thursday, Judge Ricardo Martinez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of Ramirez earlier this week—and in his ruling, he said that ICE had essentially fabricated Ramirez’s entire gang affiliation. From the ruling (emphasis mine):

These conclusory findings [that Ramirez was in a gang] have since been contradicted by experts and other evidence...Mr. Martin Flores, who has served as a gang expert in more than 700 cases, indicated that he has “never seen a gang member with a similar tattoo nor would [he] attribute this tattoo to have any gang-related meaning.” Defendants have produced no evidence to the contrary.

[...]

In addition, the ICE officer’s conclusion is completely contradictory to the government’s own previous findings after extensive background checks that were meant to uncover evidence of “known or suspected gang association.”

[...]

Most troubling to the Court, is the continued assertion that Mr. Ramirez is gang-affiliated, despite providing no evidence specific to Mr. Ramirez to the Immigration Court in connection with his administrative proceedings, and offering no evidence to this Court to support its assertions four months later...For these reasons, the Court finds that Defendants’ continued assertion that Plaintiff is a gang member or gang-affiliated is arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the APA.

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What’s more, as Slate points out, as a DACA recipient, Ramirez had been subject to extensive background checks, which would have highlighted any alleged gang affiliation long before his arrest. Of course, there were none.

In his ruling, Judge Martinez ordered Ramirez’ DACA protections reinstated, thereby preventing him from being deported.

The verdict comes as defenders of the Trump administration frantically insist that the president’s recent use of the term “animals” to describe some immigrants was intended solely for gang members and not the immigrant community as a whole. Clearly, for some at ICE, that’s a distinction without a difference.

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I have reached out to ICE for comment and will update if I hear back.