The U.S. government must stop asserting without evidence that a Mexican man it's trying to deport has gang ties, a federal judge in Seattle ruled Tuesday.
Pending a final ruling in the man's case, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez also forbid U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from revoking Daniel Ramirez Medina's work authorization or his enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
DACA was launched under former President Barack Obama to allow those brought to the country illegally as children to remain for work or study.
Ramirez, 25, came to the U.S. at age 10. He drew international attention when the government revoked his DACA status early last year and placed him in deportation proceedings, even though he has no criminal record and three times passed background checks to participate in the program.
His arrest signaled an erosion of the program's protections under President Donald Trump, and courts have since blocked the administration's efforts to end it.
In response to one of those rulings, authorities in April restored Ramirez's DACA status — only to immediately notify him that they planned to revoke it again, effective Tuesday. The reason, they said, was his gang ties — allegations of which an immigration judge had already determined to be unfounded.
That bothered Martinez.
"Most troubling to the court, is the continued assertion that Mr. Ramirez is gang-affiliated, despite providing no evidence," the judge wrote. "For these reasons, the court finds that defendants' continued assertion that plaintiff is a gang member or gang-affiliated is arbitrary and capricious."
He ordered the government to cease "asserting, adopting, or relying in any proceedings on any statement or record made as of this date purporting to allege or establish that Mr. Ramirez is a gang member, gang affiliated, or a threat to public safety."
Citizenship and Immigration Services did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Nathaniel Bach, one of Ramirez's attorneys, said the ruling means the government has to stop lying about his client and continue to grant him DACA status — both of which greatly improve his chances of remaining in the country.
Ramirez was taken into custody at a suburban Seattle home when agents went to arrest his father, a previously deported felon. Agents insisted he had a gang tattoo — in reality, it merely had the name of his hometown in Mexico — and that he admitted having gang ties, which he denies.
The government has offered no corroborating evidence of his purported gang involvement. At one hearing in immigration court, a government lawyer acknowledged having no indication that Ramirez posed a public safety risk.
An immigration judge in January found that Ramirez did not have gang ties, but ordered him deported anyway because he was in the country illegally and lacked DACA status, since it had been revoked. Ramirez has appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Martinez's ruling has no direct effect on the immigration case, but it gives his lawyers ammunition to argue that he should not be deported, Bach said.
"We're very grateful," he said. "It's an unqualified win for Daniel and the rule of law."
Ramirez, who has a 4-year-old son who is a U.S. citizen, told The Associated Press after a hearing this month that he has been working as a field hand in California vineyards since regaining his DACA status and work authorization.