LOS ANGELES, Calif. – U.S. federal agents based their decision to deport a so-called 'Dreamer' in Seattle on the tattoo he bears on his arm, declaring him to be a threat to national security.
But lawyers for Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, say he had no gang ties and that the tattoo refers to the Mexican city where he was born in the state of Baja California Sur.
Ramirez was arrested Feb 10 during a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, despite being protected under the so-called DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which granted him a work permit.
In court records ICE agents associated the tattoo on his arm - 'La Paz BCS' - with gang activity. Immigration officials say Ramirez responded that he "used to hang out with the Sureno's (sic)," a reference to a notorious Southern California gang, known as the "Sureños," (Southerners in English).
The ICE agents stated that Ramirez said he "fled California to escape from the gangs", but that he "still hangs out with the Paizas (sic) in Washington State."
Authorities have not found any criminal record for Ramirez, who is required to have a clean record in order to be protected from deportation under DACA.
DACA, established by the Obama administration in 2012, allows persons who entered the country as minors to continue their education and legally apply for jobs. The program protects from deportation some 750,000 people known as "Dreamers," after a 2011 congressional bill titled the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the group Public Counsel who represents Ramirez denied that his client had confessed to being a gang member and said the young man was pressured by ICE agents during an interrogation.
Ramirez "repeatedly told the ICE agents that the tattoo is not a gang tattoo. 'La Paz' is Mr. Ramirez’s birthplace, and 'BCS' stands for Baja California Sur, the city in which La Paz is located,” according to court filing by several groups representing Ramirez.
They added the tattoo included a nautical star with no gang relevance and was done when Ramirez was 18. "He saw the nautical star in the tattooshop and chose it because he “liked the way the star looked,”" the lawyers said.
The lawyers add that the Department of Homeland Security had not pointed to "any evidence that the tattoo on Mr. Ramirez is one commonly associated with gang membership."
Alex Sánchez, a gang expert and director of Homies Unidos organization, said ICE agents likely confused the tattoo with one representing the 'Sureños', Hispanic gang members from Southern California.
Also, Sánchez stressed, ‘Los Paisas’ is not a gang. It’s the term used to describe Mexicans and other immigrants who go to prison but are not affiliated with gangs.
Two years ago the same Tacoma, Washington, prison authorities identified Los Paisas as unaffiliated gangs, formed to defend themselves against attacks by other groups of inmates.
Other federal prisons and ICE detention centers also describe them as immigrants who form their own prison community.
Some ‘Paisas’ are confused with inmates who have formed gangs, such as the ‘Border Brothers,’ which originated in Tijuana, Mexico, and spread to California, or ‘Los Mexicles,’ which proliferated in Texas prisons, Sánchez said.
The word ‘Paisa’ is also used among Mexican immigrants and sometimes in a slightly derogatory tone to describe ‘countrymen’ who arrive to the United States with poor English or little knowledge of technology.
The ‘Sureños,’ or ‘Southerners,’ are made up of members of different Southern California gangs that have shown allegiance to 'La Mafia Mexicana,’ the largest California gang. It's arch-enemy, 'Nuestra Familia,’ is a a criminal organization from the north of the state that operates from prisons, with members known as ‘Norteños. The membership of both groups is primarily Hispanic.
The ‘Sureños’ used to be identified with tattoos that allude to the word SUR (Southern United Race) and the number 13 and its derivations, like X3, 3ce, XIII or the Aztec symbol of three points above two parallel stripes.
Additional reporting by David Adams