SAN DIEGO (AP) — A 23-year-old man sued the federal government Tuesday over his deportation to Mexico, saying he was entitled to remain in the United States under a program that shields people who came to the country as young children.
Juan Manuel Montes' attorneys said their client is believed to be the first known person who qualifies for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be deported by President Donald Trump. The attorneys said Montes qualified for DACA in 2014 and renewed his status for two years in 2016.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection disputed the account of Montes' immigration status, saying that his DACA permit expired in August 2015 and, according to its records, was not renewed.
The agency said Montes was once convicted of theft and sentenced to probation. His lawyers acknowledged in the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of California that he had a misdemeanor on his record and "minor traffic offenses," none of which would have disqualified him from DACA.
Montes, who came to the United States when he was 9 years old and suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child, graduated high school in 2013 and pursued a welding degree at community college, according to the lawsuit. He then worked two years picking crops in California and Arizona.
According to the lawsuit, Montes was sent to Mexico on Feb. 17 after being stopped by a law enforcement official and asked for identification while walking to a taxi stand in Calexico, California, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of San Diego. He had forgotten his wallet in a friend's car and felt "scared and confused." He was asked to sign documents without being given copies or an opportunity to see an immigration judge.
After getting assaulted in the Mexican border city of Mexicali, Montes returned to the United States on Feb. 19 and turned himself over to authorities, according to the lawsuit. He was again asked to sign documents, not provided copies and returned to Mexico.
Customs and Border Protection said Montes was arrested after climbing over a border fence in downtown Calexico and admitted under oath that he had entered the country illegally.
Montes is now living in Mexico with hopes of returning to the United States.
"I was forced out because I was nervous and didn't know what to do or say, but my home is there," he said in a statement released by his attorneys. "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 lawsuit seeks records explaining why Montes was deported to Mexico, alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act. It says Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which manages the DACA program, failed to respond to requests for information beyond acknowledging receipt.
"Juan Manuel was funneled across the border without so much as a piece of paper to explain why or how," said Nora Preciado, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, which represents Montes. "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."
The government has issued nearly 800,000 DACA permits since President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012 and nearly 700,000 renewals.