A young man who was supposed to be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program says he was deported from the United States — and he has no idea why.
Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, 23, arrived in the United States at just 9 years old, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. Montes, who suffered a “traumatic brain injury” as a child, received special education and twice qualified for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), allowing him to legally live and work without fear of prosecution due to his immigration status — or so he thought.
But on the night of February 17, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent approached Montes as he was on his way home from visiting a friend in Calexico, Calif., the lawsuit charges. When Montes was unable to produce his ID, saying he left it in a friend’s car, the agent took him into custody. And though Customs and Border Protection was able to ultimately determine that Montes had DACA protection, the lawsuit says, the agency still deported him to Mexico less than three hours later.
Montes appears to be the first DACA recipient to be deported under the Trump administration, and his case sets off warning bells for the thousands of people who immigrated illegally to the United States as children and now live under DACA protection.
Immigration officials never told Montes why he was deported, the suit claims. His complaint doesn’t specifically challenge the deportation, but instead asks for documentation explaining the reasons behind it, which immigration officials have declined to provide — even though Montes filed a federal request for the information, which they are legally required to respond to.
“He was not provided the opportunity to see an immigration judge, seek the assistance of counsel, or otherwise present his DACA paperwork or work authorization before he was removed from the United States,” the lawsuit says. And deportation proceedings also normally take years, not hours, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School.
“It does seem odd that Mr. Montes was deported so quickly and without a hearing before an immigration judge,” Yale-Loehr told VICE News in an email. “Nothing in the complaint indicates that he had an outstanding prior deportation order issued against him.”
“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.”
Ralph DeSio, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seemingly disputes Montes’s account of what happened. In an emailed statement, DeSio said, “Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez was apprehended by the Calexico Station Border Patrol after illegally entering the U.S. by climbing over the fence in downtown Calexico. 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.”
“His DACA status expired in Aug. 2015 and he was notified at that time,” DeSio added. “In addition, he has a conviction for theft for which he received probation.”
It is unclear if DeSio is claiming that this reentry was what first led immigration agents to pick Montes up. In the lawsuit, Montes admits that he did try to to enter the United States from Mexico — but, he says, he only did that after his original deportation on February 17.
Montes’s lawyers also maintain that DACA protection was last renewed in 2016 and thus should have lasted another two years, and that Montes’s crimes were not enough to revoke his DACA status. “Mr. Montes has had minor traffic offenses and a single misdemeanor offense, none of which would have disqualified Mr. Montes from DACA,” the lawsuit says.
DeSio did not immediately return VICE News’s request for clarification.
Though Montes may be the first DACA recipient, or “DREAMer,” to be forced to leave the country under Trump, he’s not the only one to face deportation proceedings. Daniel Ramirez Medina, the first reported DREAMer to be detained by immigration officials, is currently mired in a legal battle to remain in Seattle. A judge has yet to decide if Ramirez’s case will remain in federal court; if it does, Ramirez may be able to set a legal precedent preventing immigration agents from detaining and deporting law-abiding people who are under DACA protection.
Though President Donald Trump has expanded immigrant officials’ “deportation priorities,” he has declined to explain his plans for DACA recipients. In a February press conference, he told reporters, “DACA is a very difficult subject for me — you have these incredible kids. We are going to deal with DACA with heart.”
A request for comment to Montes’s lawyers was not immediately returned. Montes is allegedly now living in Mexico with family.