SEATTLE (AP) — Lawyers for 23-year-old Daniel Ramirez Medina say he was asleep in a suburban Seattle house last week morning when immigration agents showed up to arrest his father, who authorities described as a previously deported felon.
Despite Ramirez's participation in a federal program to protect those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, the agents took him away as well — thrusting Ramirez into a national debate over the immigration priorities of President Donald Trump.
Some saw the detention as the opening salvo in an attack on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, while federal authorities suggested it was simply a routine exercise of their authority.
Federal officials insisted Ramirez admitted he is a gang member. His lawyers adamantly deny that, saying he has no criminal record and is the father of a 3-year-old son who is an American citizen.
"If there is a shifting of the sands in terms of federal immigration policy, then we deserve to know that so people can prepare for what's about to happen," said Seattle City Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez, who grew up in a migrant farmworker family in central Washington.
She added: "This arrest is a symbol of that uncertainty, which is continuing to grow as this president continues to be unclear about what he's intending to do with DACA recipients."
Ramirez was apprehended in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines. Seattle is one of the cities across the country that has declared itself a sanctuary for immigrants and promised not to assist federal authorities' deportation efforts. However Seattle officials have stressed that federal agents "have the power and jurisdiction" to operate anywhere in the country.
Many questions about the case remain unanswered, including whether federal authorities have any evidence of gang involvement beyond his purported admission.
One of Ramirez's lawyers, Mark Rosenbaum, said Ramirez "unequivocally denies being in a gang" and that "he was repeatedly pressured by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to falsely admit affiliation."
The DACA program — referred to as "Dreamers" by supporters and derided as "illegal amnesty" by critics — has protected about 750,000 immigrants since its inception in 2012. It allows young people who were brought into the country illegally as children to stay and obtain work permits.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Ramirez was being held at a detention center in Tacoma pending deportation proceedings. The statement said participants can have their status revoked if they're found to pose a threat to national security or public safety.
About 1,500 immigrants granted DACA status since 2012 have had it revoked have had it revoked because of criminal convictions or gang affiliations.
The detention of Ramirez comes as the immigrant community is increasingly uneasy about Trump's promises to boost enforcement. In Colorado a Mexican woman trying to avoid deportation took refuge in a Denver church Wednesday after U.S. immigration authorities denied her request to remain in the country
Trump made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, saying he will build a wall along the Mexican border and deport millions of people, although actual plans have yet to be revealed. But he has also said he wants to focus on people who have committed crimes.
During an interview with Time magazine late last year, Trump expressed sympathy for those in the DACA program.
"We're going to work something out that's going to make people happy and proud," he told the magazine.
The program is considered an exercise in prosecutorial discretion by the Department of Homeland Security, which warns on its website that "deferred action may be terminated at any time."
But Ramirez's legal team argued in a petition to U.S. District Court in Seattle seeking his release that the government's discretion is limited to the rules governing the DACA program. Ramirez's arrest violated his constitutional right to due process and to be free from unlawful seizure, the lawyers argued.
ICE officials declined to immediately release any further information about Ramirez's father. Ramirez's brother, who is also a DACA participant and was at the house in the Seattle suburb of Des Moines at the time of the arrest, according to Ramirez's lawyers, was not taken into custody.
Lawyers for Ramirez said they knew little about him except that he came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 7 and that he twice passed background checks for participation in the program, most recently for a two-year renewal issued last May.
A spokeswoman for Ramirez' lawyers, Lara Bergthold, said Ramirez had previously worked as a farmworker in California before moving to Washington state in hopes of finding a better job.
Bergthold declined to say where in Mexico he came from or provide further information about his family, citing privacy concerns.
Associated Press reporters Chris Grygiel in Seattle and Amy Taxin in Los Angeles contributed.