While the Trump administration is moving swiftly to crack down on illegal immigration, President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has been left in place, for now. Last month, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that no one who has current DACA status has been detained or deported under the program (though immigration advocates dispute that). President Trump hasn’t made a final decision on the program’s fate, but he’s repeatedly expressed sympathy for Dreamers. “They shouldn’t be very worried,” he told ABC News in January. “I do have a big heart.”
But now a 23-year-old who has lived in the United States since he was 9 says he was deported to Mexico, despite the protections he was granted under DACA. Juan Manuel Montes told USA Today that after visiting his girlfriend in Calexico, California, on February 17, he was approached by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who asked to see his ID. He says he told them that he has DACA status and left his wallet in a friend’s car, but the officers wouldn’t let him retrieve his ID.
“They detained me, they took me to a center, they asked me a lot of questions, and I signed a lot of papers,” he said.
Within hours he’d been walked to the border and released into Mexicali. He spent his first night in Mexico with a friend, but said that after he was mugged and beaten he decided he had to go home. When he saw people using a rope to climb a border wall two nights later he joined them, but was quickly captured and deported again. He’s now staying with his aunt and uncle in western Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security disputes Montes’s version of events. A spokesman said they only have record of him being deported after scaling the border wall on February 19. They also claimed that his DACA status expired in 2015, though Montes’s lawyers say it was renewed in 2016, and is valid through 2018.
DHS noted that Montes was convicted for shoplifting in January 2016 and was put on probation. He also has three convictions for driving without a license, but USA Today notes that none of those convictions are serious enough to disqualify him from receiving DACA status.
Now Montes is suing the Trump administration to obtain more information about his case. He filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Tuesday, accusing the government of failing to provide any documentation that explains why he was deported.
“Juan Manuel was funneled across the border without so much as a piece of paper to explain why or how,” said Nora A. Preciado, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, which is representing Montes. “The government shouldn’t treat anyone this way — much less someone who has DACA. No one should have to file a lawsuit to find out what happened to them.”
USA Today noted that Montes was not a “poster child” for DACA. “He wasn’t his high school’s valedictorian or a prominent advocate for fellow DREAMers,” the paper wrote. Montes has learning disabilities stemming from a traumatic brain injury he suffered as a child. Nevertheless, he graduated from high school in 2013 and was taking welding classes at a Southern California community college before he was deported. He lived with his mother and younger brother, who is a U.S. citizen.
While immigration advocacy groups expressed their support for Montes on Tuesday, Representative Steve King celebrated on Twitter:
King opposes DACA and is known for saying in 2014 that for every Dreamer “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Other lawmakers said Montes’s story shows that the Trump administration is breaking its promises on immigration: