The first person deported to Mexico despite his protected status under an Obama administration directive is suing the Trump administration for its failure to turn over records related to his removal from the United States.
Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old who had lived in the U.S. since age 9, filed a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on Tuesday for the agency’s failure to respond to his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to his deportation before the legal deadline.
Montes lived and worked in the U.S. legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy the Obama administration instituted in 2012. DACA allows some immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children, known as DREAMers, to apply for deferred deportation and receive work permits. People approved to remain in the U.S. under DACA may renew their deferred status every two years.
The Trump administration, which is taking a hard line on illegal immigration, has not dismantled DACA despite President Donald Trump’s vow on the campaign trail to “immediately terminate” the program.
Deported from California to Mexico in February, Montes is the first known DREAMer to be forcibly removed from the U.S. since DACA went into effect. Montes received deportation deferrals under DACA twice, according to USA Today, which first reported Montes’ case on Tuesday. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC), which is providing Montes with legal support, said he was actively protected under DACA at the time of his deportation.
Montes reportedly did not have his ID with him when CBP officers approached him while he waited for a taxi on Feb. 17 in Calexico, California, after a visit with his girlfriend, according to NILC. CBP officers then took Montes to a nearby station and required him to sign documents, the meaning of which, NILC said, he did not understand. According to his lawsuit, Montes suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was a child, which impaired his cognitive ability. By morning, he was in Mexico.
Montes told USA Today that, after his friend drove to Mexico to bring him his wallet and clean clothes, he was violently mugged. He then decided that he could not stay in Mexico, and climbed a rope over a portion of the border fence, after which he was promptly arrested and deported again.
“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. “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.”
Following his deportations, Montes, along with his legal team, filed a FOIA request for CBP records related to his deportation, which they say are necessary for them to properly address his immigration status. The request was filed on March 15. The agency acknowledged it received the request but did not fully respond—either to turn over records or deny the request—by the 20-day deadline, as is legally required under FOIA.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, said it has no records of Montes’ first arrest and deportation, which is why CBP was unable to provide Montes with the documents he requested. DHS says it does have records of the second deportation.
FOIA is a mostly toothless law with few built-in consequences for agencies that fail to abide by the legal deadlines, which happens often. Lawsuits against the agencies are the primary recourse for FOIA requesters whose requests are not properly handled.
It is unclear how the Trump administration plans to handle DACA recipients like Montes going forward. During a White House press conference earlier this year, Trump said the issue was particularly complicated for him. “To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids,” Trump said. He added: “I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget. And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.”
Further complicating Montes’ situation is the fact that he has four convictions, USA Today reports, including one for shoplifting in January 2016 and three for driving without a license. While these minor crimes do not disqualify him from DACA protections, they do put him in a separate category politically if not legally. As such, outlets like Breitbart News are cheering his deportation, as is far-right Iowa Rep. Steve King.
View Montes’ full lawsuit against CBP below: