Juan Manuel Montes, who was 9 years old when he first came to the United States, claims he is entitled to remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. His attorneys said he is believed to be the first known person under the program to be deported during the Trump administration.
According to Montes’ attorneys, the 23-year-old qualified for DACA in 2014 and renewed his status for two years in 2016. But ICE disputes that claim. CBP said his DACA permit expired in August 2015 and, according to its records, was not renewed. The agency added that Montes was convicted of theft and sentenced to probation.
That makes him a criminal.
His attorneys acknowledged Tuesday in the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of California that he had a misdemeanor on his record and “minor traffic offenses,” none of which would have disqualified him from DACA.
Since taking office, Trump has followed through with his campaign promises to tackle illegal immigration by using executive orders to step up enforcement. The new policy calls for expanding the criteria for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants.
Trump has declined to revoke the DACA protections granted to more than 750,000 illegal immigrants. He has said he has a soft spot for these young people, many who are leading productive lives.
“They shouldn’t be very worried,” Trump told ABC News in January. “I do have a big heart.”
Montes was sent to Mexico on Feb. 17 after being stopped by a law enforcement official and asked for identification while walking to a taxi stand in Calexico, California, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of San Diego. He had forgotten his wallet in a friend’s car and felt “scared and confused.” He said he was asked to sign documents without being given copies of them and never had an opportunity to see an immigration judge.
After getting assaulted in the Mexican border city of Mexicali, Montes returned to the United States on Feb. 19 and turned himself over to authorities, according to the lawsuit. He was again asked to sign documents, was not provided copies and then was returned to Mexico.
CBP said Montes was arrested after climbing over a border fence in downtown Calexico and admitted under oath that he had entered the country illegally.
Montes is now living in Mexico with hopes of returning to the United States.
“I was forced out because I was nervous and didn’t know what to do or say, but my home is there,” he said in a statement released by his attorneys. “I miss my job. I miss school. And I want to continue to work toward better opportunities. But most of all, I miss my family, and I have hope that I will be able to go back so I can be with them again.”
The lawsuit seeks records explaining why Montes was deported to Mexico, alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act. It says CBP and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which manages the DACA program, failed to respond to requests for information beyond acknowledging receipt.
“Juan Manuel was funneled across the border without so much as a piece of paper to explain why or how,” said Nora Preciado, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, which represents 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.”
The government has issued nearly 800,000 DACA permits since President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012 and has issued nearly 700,000 renewals.