Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant who’d been working in the United States under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) initiative, was recently sent back to Mexico, a country he left when he was just nine years old. Montes’ deportation has prompted renewed protests against the Trump administration, and now he is fighting for the right to return to the U.S. and his family.
And the federal judge who will determine his fate is Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who President Trump once attacked for his “Mexican heritage” when he presided over the Trump University case. As with all judicial assignments, Curiel was selected entirely at random to preside over Montes’ lawsuit.
According to Montes, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) never provided documentation explaining the legality of sending him back to Mexico. Indeed, DHS’s story has already changed in the days since news of Montes’ deportation came to light. At first, DHS said his DACA status had expired back in 2015. Then they confirmed that his DACA status did, in fact, extend into 2018, but then justified his deportation by claiming he had “left the United States without advanced parole on an unknown date.”
Montes is likely the first DACA recipient to be deported from the United States. People enrolled in DACA, who are also referred to as DREAMers, were brought to the country as children and are supposed to be shielded from deportation under the program.
Trump previously said that he would implement a “very firm” plan with “a lot of heart” to address the fate of DREAMers. The very same week Montes was deported, in fact, Trump had reiterated, “We are gonna deal with DACA with heart.” He called DACA a “very, very difficult subject” because “you have these incredible kids — in many cases, not in all cases.”
Trump had less heart when he discussed Judge Curiel last summer. Curiel was overseeing a case against the fraudulent Trump University, accused of scamming students out of thousands of dollars in enrollment fees, and Trump believed the Indiana-born judge must be biased against him because of his Mexican heritage and the fact Trump was campaigning on the desire to build a border wall. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump,” the then-candidate told a crowd last June. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself.”
In a follow-up statement and in multiple press interviews, Trump stood by his attacks. “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial,” the statement read, “but, based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial.” This was despite the fact Curiel agreed to delay proceedings until November so that they would not interfere with the campaign. Trump ultimately settled the case for $25 million.
Curiel never publicly commented about Trump’s remarks, but many, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, described the comments as racist.
Despite Trump’s supposed compassion for DACA recipients, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not toe that line in his comments to Fox News Wednesday night. Though he claimed “DACA enrollees are not being targeted,” he insisted that “everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported.”