A 23-year-old immigrant who is authorized to work in the U.S. and who is supposed to be protected from deportation was forcibly deported from the country in what may be the first documented case of its kind, according to the lawyers who are suing on behalf of him.
Immigrant advocates say this case represents a show of force by the Trump administration that proves he won’t go easy on the undocumented population, despite his promises to treat them “with heart.”
Juan Manuel Montes has lived in the United States since the age of nine. As a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Montes had approval to live and work in the United States, subject to renewal every two years. The program, an Obama-era immigration initiative, currently remains in place under the Trump administration.
Montes has been approved for DACA twice and, at the time of his arrest, his DACA status and employment authorization were still valid.
Nonetheless, according to the federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday by several groups, including the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Montes was deported back to Mexico on February 18.
According to the complaint, which was first reported by USA Today, Montes was approached by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent while he was walking down the street in Calexico, California “on his way to take a taxi home after seeing a friend.”
The lawsuit says the agent approached Montes “in an aggressive manner” to ask for his identification. But Montes couldn’t immediately produce his ID or his proof of DACA because he had left his wallet in his friend’s car.
Officers put Montes in a vehicle and drove him to the nearest port of entry, where Montes was questioned and forced to sign documents. Then, CBP officers walked Montes to the U.S.-Mexico border and “physically removed him from the United States.” The whole process took about three hours.
Montes — who has a cognitive impairment because of a brain injury during his childhood, according to the National Immigration Law Center — alleges he was not allowed to see an immigration judge or a lawyer at any point.
“I was forced out because I was nervous and didn’t know what to do or say, but my home is there,” Montes said in a statement released by the NILC. “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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security insists that Montes’ DACA status expired in 2015, according to a statement made to PBS NewsHour.
On Wednesday, an DHS official told ThinkProgress that Montes’ DACA status was renewed and that it is set to expire on January 25, 2018. However the official said that Montes “lost his DACA status when he left the United States without advanced parole on an unknown date prior to his arrest by the U.S. Border Patrol on Feb. 19, 2017.” DACA recipients are required to obtain advanced parole prior to leaving the country or risk terminating their protected status.
Although Montes has some friends and family in Mexico, he doesn’t necessarily feel safe there. He said that, soon after his arrival, his suitcase was stolen and his life was threatened. Montes turned himself in to CBP agents the following day, but said he was once again physically removed.
President Donald Trump has previously claimed that he has a “very big heart” for DACA recipients, yet administration officials like Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have made no such distinction. Both agencies have lowered the bar for crimes that are punishable by deportation.
“It is beyond the pale that border patrol officers are left to make decisions that impact people’s lives and future with absolute impunity,” Angelica Salas, executive director for the advocacy group Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), said in a statement. “ICE must be reined in and stopped from grossly violating people’s constitutional rights.”
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) April 18, 2017
Montes’ deportation was welcome news to Rep. Steve King (R-IA), an anti-immigrant lawmaker who has ascribed colorful attributes to undocumented immigrants, saying that they have “cantaloupe-sized calves” and represent “somebody else’s babies.” Hours after the lawsuit was filed, King sent a congratulatory tweet to border agents celebrating Montes’ deportation.
“Border Patrol, this one’s for you,” King wrote on Twitter as a caption for a photo of a beer.
The undocumented community, meanwhile, has rallied behind Montes.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and we’ve got Juan’s back just like we stood with Dany after she was stalked by agents and Daniel after agents tried to frame and deport him,” Greisa Martinez, the advocacy director of United We Dream and a DACA beneficiary, said in a statement.
Martinez is referencing two other DACA recipients who were similarly detained by federal immigration agents, sparking widespread concern about how harshly the Trump administration is going to go after people who are supposed to be protected from deportation. Both of those recipients were eventually freed after long periods in detention.
Update: The piece includes an additional detail about Montes’ DACA status made available for ThinkProgress by the DHS agency.