DACA recipient detained by ICE in Seattle, immigrant mother seeks sanctuary in Denver church

ICE agents during an enforcement action in Atlanta, Georgia on February 9, 2017 (Photo credit: Bryan Cox, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / public domain license)

A man legally in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) remains in immigration detention in Washington state; it’s the first known case of a documented immigrant arrested during nationwide sweeps launched last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Meanwhile, a Mexican-born mother seeks sanctuary in a Denver church instead of risking deportation at a scheduled check-in. Shannon Young has more.

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Official information about the immigration enforcement actions has been sparse and slow-moving, but one thing is clear: the Obama era guidelines on high and low priority removals are no longer in place.

In a written statement issued Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said ICE officers had arrested more than 680 people “in the Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York City areas of responsibility.” That list does not include all cities where immigration arrests also occurred, like Seattle, where 23-year-old DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina was taken into custody.

Ramirez is the first known case of a person with legal status targeted in the new wave of immigration sweeps.

“Daniel has been in detention now for a couple days, unfairly and unjustly,” says Paul Quinones, a Seattle-based DACA recipient himself, says that while in custody, Ramirez has been pressured to sign a confession of gang affiliation. “And we have seen ICE lying about him and trying to defame him by painting him as a criminal, which is nothing more than carrying out Trump’s executive orders on interior enforcement and seeking to further criminalize our community and expand the definition of who is a criminal.”

DHS – of which ICE is a part – says that approximately 75 percent of those arrested in the enforcement actions have histories of criminal convictions.

“Instead of focusing on the removal of hardcore criminals, a quarter of the people detained in the ICE raids are innocent people, including the arrest of a Dreamer in Seattle,” explains Los Angeles Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. She also says that the acting director of ICE canceled a scheduled meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The lawmakers specifically wanted to discuss the nationwide actions launched last week.

“We’ve heard that some parents aren’t sending their kids to school because they’re afraid to,” Sanchez says. “People are not answering the door, they’re not leaving their homes to go to work, because of the fear that these raids have incited.”

ICE maintains the actions are not raids, but that “during targeted enforcement operations, ICE officers frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws. Those persons will be evaluated on a case by case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE.”

Daniel Ramirez Medina, the Dreamer arrested in Seattle, appears to have been what attorneys call a ‘collateral arrest,’ meaning that agents decided to take him in while searching for someone else, in this case, Ramirez’s father. But the fact that he had status under DACA has sent a chill through the large community of immigrant youth with the same type of papers.

“The government did promise people who were enrolled in this program that their personal information will not be used as a device for targeting them for immigration enforcement, A, and B, that they would be protected under this program just so long as they met the requirements, established by such, and they passed a background check,” notes Juan Escalante, a Florida-based DACA recipient and digital campaigns manager with the advocacy organization, America’s Voice.

DACA benefits young immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, without authorization, which means, in most cases, their parents are undocumented. Many Dreamers now worry that the information they provided as part of the vetting process can now be used against their families.

Escalante explains some of the requirements: “You have to, essentially, provide proof that you have resided in the country for at least five years with no interruptions, meaning that you should not have left the country at any period of time. There is an age requirement, biometrics requirement, an application fee of $455, a background check to which you have to submit very detailed information as to who you are, any sort of affiliations that you may have, if any at all, and provide a history of your residence, meaning where you have lived throughout your time here in the United States. The level of detail that is demanded in these applications is extremely explicit, all of which is turned over, again, in good will by immigrant youth to the government for verification and approval, in order to confer them this deferred action status.”

And it’s not just DACA recipients who are now suddenly questioning if their status makes them a target of the immigration authorities with whom they have contact.

The recent deportation of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos sent a message that longtime undocumented residents with U.S. born children could no longer take solace in being considered a low priority for removal. Garcia de Rayos was arrested during a routine check-in with immigration authorities and summarily deported to Mexico hours later.

Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican-born mother who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, opted to seek sanctuary in a Denver-area church instead of going to her immigration check-in Wednesday morning. She spoke by cell phone and through a translator to a group of supporters gathered outside of the office where her lawyer learned her request to stay her deportation had been denied.

“I want to say that I think that I made the right choice by not coming today. In my heart, I knew that today was different than in the past. In my heart, I knew that they were going to deny me my stay. And that is why I didn’t come today. I am going to keep fighting,” Vizguerra told her supporters. “Today, in the afternoon, there will be an action in Washington, D.C. to take this up to the next level, this rejection of my stay. I’m going to need my community here with me every step of the way in the next weeks and months.”

President Trump’s executive order on interior immigration enforcement expands the criteria for priority removal from fugitive criminals to anyone in violation of federal immigration law. Immigration rights advocates say the criteria is broad enough to lay the groundwork for the expulsion of millions of people, and that the deportation force Trump promised during the campaign is already taking shape.

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