If there were ever a cautionary tale about the perils of speeding immigrant deportations, it’s the case of Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old Dreamer from the California border town of Calexico.
On Tuesday his attorneys filed a lawsuit arguing that U.S. Customs and Border Protection in February wrongly deported Montes, who has protected immigration status – a first under the Trump administration. They want the federal government to turn over records that explain why.
“Rather than continue to provide half-truths and varying assertions, the Department of Homeland Security should respond to our request for documentation,” Nora Preciado, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, told USA Today earlier this week. “We will see them in court.”
Since then, things have gotten, well, messy.
At issue is Montes’ enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shields people brought to the United States as children from deportation.
Trump is about to find out that immigration law is complicated. Who knew?
President Donald Trump has pledged to uphold DACA, saying of enrollees in January: “They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart.” Not that immigration advocates believe it.
From the beginning, Montes has said he is enrolled. But on the night he was arrested, waiting for a ride after spending an evening with his girlfriend, he left his wallet in a friend’s car and couldn’t provide Border Patrol with proof of his DACA status.
The agents refused to let him retrieve it. Instead, Montes, who has a learning disability, says he was told to sign paperwork that he didn’t understand. Then, within three hours, he was back in Mexico. Immigration officers released him into Mexicali.
Homeland Security officials disputed that story on Tuesday, saying they couldn’t find paperwork proving that Montes was covered by DACA. Then, on Wednesday, the agency backtracked, admitting that his status is indeed valid until 2018.
But in another wrinkle, immigration officials now say Montes left the United States voluntarily, which could invalidate his DACA status. Montes, of course, disputes that.
About the only thing both sides can agree on is that, after arriving in Mexico, Montes tried to cross the border again but was caught and deported back to Mexicali days later.
For now, it looks like the truth will be sorted out in court. Coincidentally, the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who Trump, as a candidate, outrageously accused of bias because of his “Mexican heritage.”
This is what happens when the deportation process gets rushed. And yet the Trump administration, eager to remove millions of immigrants as quickly as possible, is trying to speed things up even more.
Last month, the Justice Department said it was planning to reassign immigration judges to 12 cities with large numbers of pending deportation cases. Anticipating that agents – which the Trump administration hopes to hire by the thousands – will be rounding up even more immigrants, Trump’s administration has secured an additional 33,000 detention beds. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also is looking to ink more contracts with county jails by doing away with pricey requirements for such niceties as translation services.
Getting rid of many of these laws won’t be as easy as Trump imagines, though, and Congress is likely to balk at the cost.
As with health care, Trump is about to find out that immigration law is complicated. Who knew?