By Matt Gulick
Daniel Ramirez Medina was released from immigration custody on March 29.
He spent six weeks detained in the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) despite his protected status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy allowing individuals who entered the United States as minors to remain in the country for a renewable two-year period.
The NWDC is a private institution run for profit by the GEO group. Multiple civil suits have targeted the group for injuries incurred at their prisons and detention centers.
Immigrant advocates fear that this move signals an erosion of what protections undocumented persons currently hold. They wonder if this will be the norm for the Trump administration and if more arrests will follow.
Paul Quinones with the Washington Dream Act Coalition called it a declaration of “open war and open season on all immigrants in this country.” While it remains to be seen if this is the case, Ramirez’s arrest does present a cause for concern among immigrant advocates.
Released on $15,000 bond, Ramirez said in a written statement through his legal team: “I’m so happy to be reunited with my family today and can’t wait to see my son. This has been a long and hard 46 days, but I’m so thankful for the support that I’ve gotten from everyone who helped me and for the opportunity to live in such an amazing country. I know that this isn’t over, but I’m hopeful for the future, for me and for the hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers who love this country like I do,” according to the Seattle Times.
His pro bono legal team includes the Los Angeles based firm Public Counsel and Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe — a specialist in Constitutional Law.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Ramirez in a raid targeted toward his father. While Daniel Ramirez has no criminal record, his father is a previously deported felon. Despite no proof of wrongdoing, immigration agents incarcerated Daniel at the detention center along with the targeted man.
“At this point, you know, they don’t — haven’t put forward any evidence. I think there have been some statements that they’ve made regarding a possible gang membership. Again, I think we — Mr. Ramirez and we certainly dispute that. And as I mentioned, there is absolutely no evidence of that given.” said Tim Warden-Hertz, the directing attorney for the Tacoma office of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, in a Feb 20 interview with Democracy Now!.
As evidence ICE cited a tattoo on Ramirez’s arm — a tattoo his lawyers say merely references his hometown of La Paz, Mexico. ICE have put forward no new evidence supporting their claim. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project provides direct legal assistance, systemic advocacy and community education for immigrants in the Northwest.
“We believe very strongly that no matter where someone happens to be born, he or she deserves justice and respect. I think more personally, nearly everyone has a family history of immigration and I think we can all understand the desire to keep our families together, safe and with a chance for a decent life,” Warden-Hertz told The Trail.
“[The current administration] does represent a shift in that there are many new proposals to significantly ramp up on deportations, to prioritize deportations of all undocumented people and many troubling proposals to limit due process for all of us living in the United States and for asylum seekers,” he said.
Ramirez’s use of the word “Dreamers” in post-release statement refers to the unpassed DREAM act. This legislation would have granted legal status to undocumented immigrants who migrated to the US as children and attended school in the country. Adopted as a moniker for undocumented immigrants, “Dreamers” represents hope for a more certain future, a dream for these often forgotten individuals.
To put it another way, “DACA represents the American Dream, a meritocracy for deserving immigrants. It serves to associate these people with economic and cultural benefits for the progress of the country,” said Edwin Elias, a visiting professor with the Sociology and Anthropology Department.
According to him this legislation demonstrates the relationship between the United States government and undocumented workers. On the one hand, Elias notes, migrant workers bring significant economic wealth to certain people in the United States, working in conditions that other American residents cannot or will not tolerate. They forward the narrative of hardworking individuals who made America what it is today while working for low wages that generate more corporate profit.
On the other hand president Trump campaigned on a promise of deporting violent illegal immigrants, or as he put it, “bad hombres.”
“Just think about what type of environment he wants to create. There’s symbolic, economic, and ideological gains to be made. The idea is that we don’t want to deport all undocumented immigrants, at least in terms of capital, but you want to have that symbolic gesture to support your fanbase,” Elias said.
“What Trump is doing is not new. The apparatus that he had inherited came from president Obama who deported more immigrants than any time in history,” Elias said. A 2014 LA Times article does note that this statistic comes from a change in how deportations were counted under his administration. Previous persons caught at and bussed across the border had been deemed “voluntary returns.” Obama’s administration renamed these deportations, inflating the total statistic to seem larger than his predecessors.
While Trump’s actions are in line with other administrations, memos from the Trump team demonstrate an increase in the policing around deportation.
“Department personnel should prioritize removable aliens who (1) have been convicted of any criminal offense; (2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved … or (7) in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security” says the Feb 20 memo from John Kelly, Secretary for Homeland Security. Professor Elias found the language concerning for the broad discretion it gives officers to decide who they may detain, pointing to (7) — “in the judgement of the immigration officer.”
Such policing practices will lead to increased arrests. In 2013 Congress mandated a 34,000 bed quota for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. This means that 34,000 beds need to contain an immigrant every night across the United States. The more beds filled, the more money GEO group makes. The NWDC contains 1,575 beds.
Between 2008 and 2014, GEO group and CCA (another private prison company) spent $16,055,000 on federal lobbying.
“You can just see from the location of the center how the company views immigrants. They don’t see them as people. To GEO they are property,” Rose Pytte, President of Advocates for Detainees’ Voices (ADV), said.
Located on the tideflats of the port of Tacoma, in the industrial heart of the city, the detention center is a mere 12-minute drive from the University.
“There is a hunger strike happening at the NWDC right now,” Amanda Diaz, former Presdient of ADV, said, “415 detained have refused food in order to protest the terrible living and working conditions inside the detention center.”
“They are calling for expedited hearings with an immigration judge, better medical care access, improved food quality, lower commissary prices, and an increase in the $1-a-day pay for “running all of the prison’s basic services,” reports KOMO news.
Pytte attended a rally outside the center where activists, undocumented immigrants and family members of detainees spoke. She said it is important for people to continue to show up and show support.
“Students can participate in the rallies, donate money… They can participate in ADV meetings (Wednesday’s at 7 p.m. in the Social Justice Center) to learn more about ways they can help raise awareness about immigration detention,” Diaz said.
Tacoma Weekly recently ran a multi-article story on the detention center, one of which covers conditions inside the fence. Access available at tacomaweekly.com/news.