The past and future script of our long, absurdist national conversation about race is written on Daniel Ramirez Medina’s body.
Ramirez is the 23-year-old father who, as of this writing, still sits in detention, awaiting deportation. He was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during Donald Trump’s first wave of immigration raids. As a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, his arrest has become a focal point for concern over Trump’s promised mass deportations.
Dreamers, as DACA recipients are called, are the Talented Tenth of brown immigrants. Not only are they the best and the brightest, they are also the most blameless in their transgression against America’s borders—or so goes the script written by the Obama administration and well-meaning immigration-rights advocates. Obama exempted the Dreamers from his record-setting mass deportations because they entered the country as children, and because they applied themselves in school and kept out of trouble while pursuing the American dream, despite their undocumented status. Roughly 750,000 of the estimated 11 million people living in the United States without permission have successfully proven themselves to fit these DACA qualifications and thus have been deemed worthy neighbors.
But for people of color in the United States, there has always been a fine line between hero and menace. So Daniel Ramirez was a Dreamer right up until February 10, at which point he became a gangbanger.
On that morning, federal immigration agents—members of a Fugitive Operations Team—showed up at his home in a Seattle suburb. They were looking for his father, for whom they had a warrant and an existing deportation order. These are the facts of Ramirez’s detention on which everyone agrees.
The feds claim that Ramirez’s father answered the door and told them that both of his adult sons, who were in the apartment, were also in the country illegally. They say the father let them in. Ramirez’s lawyers insist that the agents barged in without permission and took Ramirez into custody despite his repeated statements that he had a work permit, granted under DACA.
The feds say that Ramirez admitted to being in the Sureños gang, thereby disqualifying himself from Dreamer status, and point to a tattoo on his forearm as a gang insignia. Ramirez says he repeatedly insisted that he wasn’t a member of any gang and that, if he did have contact with any gang members, it would have been as a kid, when he “did nothing more than hang out with a few people who may have been Sureños.” As for his tattoo, which has the words “La Paz” and “B.C.S.” with a star, his lawyers say that it refers to his hometown of La Paz, Baja California Sur, in Mexico.