A 23-year-old immigrant who says he was cleared to work and live in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been deported, according to his lawyers.
It’s believed to be the first such case under President Donald Trump to deal with the Obama-era protections that cover more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
But the Department of Homeland Security says his protection ended two years ago.
Mr. Trump had promised to protect these individuals from deportation, even as he pledged, on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office, to crack down on immigration.
An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S.
What Montes says
As first reported by USA Today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection approached Juan Manuel Montes on or about Feb. 18 in Calexico, California, and asked for identification. Montes said he didn’t have ID because he had left his wallet in friend’s car.
According to Montes’ team of lawyers, led by the National Immigration Law Center, Border Patrol transported Montes to a local station. Within hours, he was deported to Mexico, without a chance to see an immigration judge, counsel or review documents he had signed, his lawyers said in a statement.
On Tuesday, a group of lawyers filed a complaint in a U.S. District Court in California, seeking more information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection about their encounter with Montes. According to the 11-page federal complaint, Montes still “does not know the legal basis for his removal.”
Montes’ lawyers say he had previously been approved twice for deportation protection under the DACA program, created in 2012 under then-President Barack Obama to allow immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to temporarily live and work in the country. The Department of Homeland Security told NewsHour on Tuesday its records indicated Montes’ authorization expired in 2015. On Wednesday, the department told NewsHour a more detailed search indicated Montes’ DACA authorization did expire in 2018, but that Montes had lost his DACA status “when he left the United States without advance parole,” before he encountered U.S. Border Patrol on Feb. 19. The Department of Homeland Security told NewsHour on Wednesday that “there are no records or evidence to support” the claim that he was detained Feb. 18 in Calexico, as his lawyers claim.
Montes’ lawyers maintained that he had valid DACA status when he was deported to Mexicali, Mexico, because he had a U.S.-government issued ID, proving he was a DACA recipient, said Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center.
The complaint says Montes was granted DACA status in 2014 and successfully reapplied for it in 2016, meaning it would expire in 2018. DACA recipients must reapply for the program every two years.
Tumlin said Montes, like other DACA recipients, was issued a specific Employment Authorization Document, EAD, that would have alerted Border Patrol to Montes’ status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that oversees DACA applications, categorizes these EADs under “C-33.”
Tumlin said no one would receive an ID with that code unless they’d been granted DACA status.
“I was forced out because I was nervous and didn’t know what to do or say, but my home is there,” Montes, who has lived in the U.S. since he was 9 years old, said in a statement. “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.”
What the government says
When asked about Montes’ deportation, the White House referred the NewsHour to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP said it does not comment on pending litigation, spokesman Ralph DeSio told NewsHour.
The Department of Homeland Security told NewsHour that Montes’ DACA status expired in August 2015, according to their records. Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement to NewsHour that he was also notified when his status was not renewed.
Christensen also said Border Patrol arrested Montes after he attempted to cross into the U.S. by climbing a fence in Calexico, California — not, as his lawyers said, as he was walking to a taxi station.
“He was arrested by BP just minutes after he made his illegal entry and admitted under oath during the arrest interview that he had entered illegally,” she said in the statement.
Tumlin said this was only part of the story.
The court complaint said Montes, a day or two after being deported to Mexico, was attacked by two men. After the attack, Montes was “shaken and feared for his life.” So on Feb. 19, he attempted to cross back into the U.S. Thirty minutes after crossing, he turned himself in to Border Patrol agents. Around Feb. 20, Montes was again deported to Mexico, the complaint said.
“[Montes] deserves a full day in court, and he deserves answers,” Tumlin said.
USA Today originally reported that Montes also had a shoplifting offense from 2016 and three additional convictions for driving without a license.
Christensen said the department’s records indicate Montes had a previous a conviction for theft, “for which he received probation.” DHS didn’t indicate whether that conviction would affect Montes’ DACA status.
The complaint filed by his lawyers said none of these convictions would prevent someone from receiving DACA status.
“If the policies of 2012 have been that these type of shoplifting offenses doesn’t prevent you from DACA, what gives?” Tumlin told the NewsHour.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services didn’t immediately respond to NewsHour requests for comment.
Where Trump stands on DACA
A day or two before Montes was reportedly detained by Border Patrol, Trump told reporters that he and his administration would address the issue with “great heart,” when asked by the NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins whether he planned to cut the DACA program.
“But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me, because, you know, I love these kids,” he told reporters on Feb. 16.
PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins asked President Donald Trump about his upcoming executive order on immigration, as well as his plans for the DACA program during a news conference at the White House in mid-February.
Trump hasn’t indicated since then that he’d roll back protections on so-called DREAMers, or DACA enrollees, under the program. The president has said his focus is on those here illegally who commit serious crimes.
Advocacy organization United We Dream told USA Today that immigration enforcers have targeted DREAMers in their stepped-up deportation efforts. The organizations said at least 10 DREAMers are in federal custody.
Jeff Sessions denied those allegations in an interview Wednesday with Fox News.
AG Sessions: "Everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported." pic.twitter.com/XmuJP81y79
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 19, 2017
“DACA enrollees are not being targeted. I don’t know why this individual was picked up. Everybody in the country illegally is subject to being deported. So people come here and they stay here a few years and somehow they think that they’re not subject to being deported. Well they are,” he told Fox News. “So that’s the reason we plead with people: Don’t come here illegally, wait your turn, make your application, follow the rules and then when you get into the United States — and we admit 1.1 million a year to permanent legal residence in the United States with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship. So we’re the most generous nation in the world, but we have got to restore lawfulness to our system.”
PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops. The NewsHour’s Geoffrey Guray contributed to this report.