SAN DIEGO – Lawyers for a Mexican man who was shielded from being deported will try to persuade a judge who has been a target of President Donald Trump’s scorn that the administration wrongly expelled their client from the United States.
Juan Manuel Montes, 23, is the first known recipient of the five-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be deported under Trump, according to supporters. The administration says Montes left the United States voluntarily, causing him to forfeit his protected status.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will hear arguments Tuesday, nearly five months after he approved a settlement for Trump to pay $25 million to end lawsuits alleging fraud at his now-defunct Trump University. As the Republican presidential front-runner last year, Trump suggested that the Indiana-born jurist’s Mexican heritage prevented him from being impartial.
The immediate question before Curiel is whether Montes can return to the United States while his case is being adjudicated. The judge may choose to rule on that request for a preliminary injunction at a later date, but his comments Tuesday may offer the first clues on his thoughts about the case.
The government has approved nearly 1.8 million DACA permits, including renewals, since President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012 for immigrants who came to the country as young children and performed well. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on DACA’s future, allowing the program to continue but saying that its fate is undecided.
Places with the fewest immigrants push back the hardest against immigration https://t.co/n6UwsPEsTb pic.twitter.com/HxU4XuvGpI
— CNN (@CNN) August 22, 2017
Montes’ case won’t address DACA’s legal or policy merits, focusing instead on a key dispute about what happened to the Mexican man on the night of Feb. 18.
Montes says he had finished dinner with a friend and was seeking a ride home in the California border town of Calexico when a U.S. agent stopped him and Montes failed to produce identification. He says agents questioned him for hours before forcing him to Mexico without any paperwork.
Both sides agree on what happened next: Montes tried to return to the United States the following night by jumping the border fence in Calexico, was caught by Border Patrol agents and deported to Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security said it has no record that authorities deported Montes two nights earlier and insists that he crossed into Mexico voluntarily, causing him to lose protected status.
Montes, who came to the United States when he was 9, graduated from high school in 2013 and pursued a welding degree at community college, according to his lawsuit. He then worked two years picking crops in California and Arizona.
He qualified for DACA in 2014 and renewed his status for two years in 2016. He currently lives in Mexico.