A Seattle-area man who was arrested despite being part of a federal program that protects those brought to the United States as children admitted to associating with gangs in California and Washington, the Justice Department said in court papers filed Thursday.
Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, was arrested Friday in Des Moines, Washington, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement executed a warrant against his father.
Ramirez, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was 7, was asked whether he had been involved in gang activity and said "not no more," according to a Justice Department brief.
After being questioned about a "gang tattoo" on his forearm, Ramirez allegedly said he "used to hang out with the Sureno's in California" and fled the state to escape gangs, but he allegedly also said he "still hangs out with the Paizas in Washington state," the Justice Department said in a brief.
His attorneys have said the claim is false.
Ramirez's case has been criticized as an overreach amid uncertainty over ICE enforcement actions in several states and President Donald Trump's stances on immigration. ICE officials called last week's raids routine and said they were not done at the direction of the White House.
Ramirez has permission to remain in the United States and work through the Deferred Action and Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program authorized by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Ramirez's attorney, Mark Rosembaum, denied in a statement that Ramirez admitted to being in a gang.
"Mr. Ramirez did not say these things because they are not true," Rosenbaum said. "And while utterly implausible and wholly fabricated, these claims still would not be sufficient evidence that Mr. Ramirez is a threat to the public safety or national security."
The court documents blacked out a picture of the tattoo, but Ramirez's lawyers said it reads "La Paz BCS." La Paz means "Peace" in Spanish and is also the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, where Ramirez was born.
Ramirez was taken to an ICE holding facility before being questioned about gangs and the tattoo, the Justice Department said in the brief.
The Justice Department said in the brief that after ICE agents went to execute a warrant against Ramirez's father, Ramirez "answered 'yes' to the question of whether he was 'illegally' in the United States" and that he answered "yes" when asked whether he had ever been arrested.
Asked about the DACA program at a news conference Thursday, Trump said, "We're going to show great heart."
"To me, it's one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases. In some of the cases, they're having DACA, and they're gang members, and they're drug dealers, too," Trump said.
"But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly, they were brought here in such a way — it's a very, very tough subject," the president said. "We are going to deal with DACA with heart."
Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center, called on the Trump administration and the Homeland Security Department to be clearer about their plans on immigration issues, saying recent actions appeared "scattershot."
"We need to have a little bit of empathy for the families that are impacted, who have to sit at the dinner table and make a plan in case a member of the family is deported," he said. "It's all good to say he's got heart for 'dreamer' kids, but they're not the only ones that are afraid."
Around 730,000 immigrants have been granted DACA status since the program began in 2012. The Homeland Security Department said around 1,500 had the status removed because of criminal convictions or gang affiliations.