WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration detained and swiftly deported a 23-year-old man in February in spite of his active Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, USA Today reported on Tuesday.
It is the first known case of a so-called Dreamer with current DACA protection being deported. And it shows the tenuous position of these undocumented young people under President Donald Trump, who simultaneously says that he will not target them, and that he will let immigration enforcement agents do what they want.
Lawyers for the Dreamer, Juan Manuel Montes, said a Border Patrol agent stopped him on the street in Calexico, California, on Feb. 17 and asked him for identification, which he couldn’t produce because he had left his wallet in a friend’s car. Border Patrol detained him and made him sign documents without giving him copies, allowing him to consult a lawyer or see a judge, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in California that demands the government release reports on the encounter with Montes.
Hours after he was stopped, Montes was in Mexico, where he hasn’t lived since he was 9.
“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, referring to the U.S. “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.”
Customs and Border Patrol disputed Montes’ story. Agency spokesman Ralph DeSio said Montes was apprehended minutes after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and admitted having done so under oath. He said Montes’ DACA status expired in August 2015 and that he had a conviction for theft.
Montes suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and attended special education classes after his arrival in the U.S., according to the complaint. He enrolled in community college after graduating from high school in 2013 to become a welder, but took a break to earn money as a farmworker.
DACA, which former President Barack Obama created in 2012 for undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children, does not guarantee that an individual is safe from removal. The two-year status, which comes with temporary work authorization, can be revoked if an individual commits certain crimes or is deemed a threat to public safety. About 1,500 people have lost DACA status because of criminal activity or gang affiliation since 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Montes has multiple convictions ― three for driving without a license and one for shoplifting ― but his record doesn’t make him ineligible for DACA, according to USA Today.
The fact that he had active DACA status and was deported anyway makes his case highly unusual. Former DACA recipients are sometimes expelled, but not those with current protection.
ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez, speaking about DACA in general, said in an email that individuals with deferred action are a lower priority for enforcement, but aren’t protected.
“A decision to grant deferred action may be revoked by DHS at any time, particularly in the case of someone who commits a crime or is otherwise found to pose a national security or public safety threat,” Rodriguez said. “Deferred action does not, in any way, prevent DHS from moving forward with execution of a removal order.”
Immigration agents have detained multiple Dreamers under Trump, some of them with active DACA status. Immigration and Customs enforcement detained DACA recipient Daniel Ramirez Medina, 24, in February while looking for someone else, and held him in custody for a month, claiming he had admitted gang affiliation. Medina denies the accusation.
Trump promised during the presidential campaign that he would immediately end DACA, but has yet to do so, to the chagrin of some of his supporters. His administration is still granting new work authorization permits, and officials have said Dreamers are not targets for deportation unless they do something that would cause them to lose DACA status.
“The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me as I love these kids,” Trump said in February. “I love kids, I have kids and grandkids and I find it very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s rough, very very rough.”
Montes is being represented by lawyers at the National Immigration Law Center and several private law firms as he seeks more information on his case.
“Juan Manuel was funneled across the border without so much as a piece of paper to explain why or how,” Nora Preciado, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement. “The government shouldn’t treat anyone this way — much less someone who has DACA. No one should have to file a lawsuit to find out what happened to them.”
This article has been updated with comment from Customs and Border Protection.