The federal judge in California who will hear the case involving the deportation of a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is the same judge then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made racist comments about in 2016.
US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has been assigned to a case involving Juan Manuel Montes, 23, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, CNN reported Thursday.
While on the campaign trail last year, Trump repeatedly claimed that Curiel could not render unbiased rulings in a case against the now-defunct Trump University because Trump wanted to ‘build a wall’ between the United States and Mexico, and Curiel was a ‘Mexican’ and a ‘hater.’
Curiel is an American citizen, born in Indiana, of Hispanic descent.
US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, has been assigned to a case involving Juan Manuel Montes, 23, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, is the same judge then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made racist comments about in 2016.
‘He’s a Mexican,’ candidate Trump said during an interview with Jake Tapper in 2016. ‘We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can’t even believe.’
Trump continually denied that his comments were racist, even when directly called to question on the matter.
‘If you’re saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?’ Tapper asked Trump.
‘No,’ Trump said. ‘I don’t think so at all.’
Curiel eventually approved a $25 million settlement in that fraud case, which Trump accepted.
The issue at the heart of the case that Curiel will hear now deals directly with whether DHS properly complied, or must now comply, with a FOIA request for documents pertaining to why an undocumented man left the United States while he was a beneficiary of the DACA program.
Under DACA, which came into existence as the result of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, undocumented individuals who entered the US as children may stay in the US into adulthood for work or education under certain circumstances.
As part of the program, they must renew their status at specified intervals, and are not allowed to leave the US without providing advance notice and receiving permission.
It is undisputed that Montes left the US, but the circumstances surrounding his departure are contested. Montes contended he did so not of his own volition. He contends he did so because he was deported, and improperly so as his DACA status was valid.
The case currently before Judge Curiel stems from his lawyers’ attempt to prove that statement.
Montes’ lawyers claimed they submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security that was not complied with in a timely fashion, that would produce documents that show Montes was deported on February 17, and therefore did not lose his DACA status then, or when he re-entered the US on February 19.
The DHS on Wednesday reversed its previous staement that Montes’ DACA status had expired in August 2015 and was not renewed.
It acknowledged that Montes was entitled to be in the US until January 25, 2018 under the DACA program, but then added that Montes acknowledged under oath that he entered the country illegally on February 19, forcing him to lose status because it was an admission that he left without required permission.
Juan Manuel Montes (pictured), 23, is currently in Mexico while his deportation case plays out
Montes’ attorneys said their client is believed to be the first known DACA recipient to be deported by President Donald Trump. They said he qualified in 2014 and renewed his status for two years in 2016.
The lawsuit seeking records about Montes’ deportation was randomly assigned to Judge Curiel in San Diego on Wednesday.
The case may define Trump’s approach to DACA. Trump has kept it in place and made sympathetic remarks about its beneficiaries, upsetting some immigration hardliners.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that he didn’t want to ‘rush to judgment’ about Montes and referred questions to Homeland Security. He said the administration’s enforcement priorities are people who committed crimes in the United States and pose a threat.
‘I would respectfully suggest that, in this case, the facts are not completely out, so I would rather not jump to conclusions about what happened,’ he said.
Even after its latest statement, DHS’s account sharply differed from what Montes’ attorneys said happened.
The attorneys said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of California that their client left the country February 17 only because he was 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 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 two days later and turned himself over to authorities, according to the lawsuit. He was again asked to sign documents, not provided copies and returned to Mexico.
Homeland Security said Wednesday that the Border Patrol had no record of the initial encounter in Calexico and that Montes had left the United States ‘on an unknown date.’ The Border Patrol arrested after him after he climbed over a border fence in the California border town of about 40,000 people.
The National Immigration Law Center, which represents Montes, stood by its account. Its lawsuit seeks records on why their client was deported, alleging that immigration officials violated the Freedom of Information Act for failure to respond to its request beyond acknowledging receipt.
President Donald Trump repeatedly denied the statements he made on the campaign trail in 2016 about Curiel to be racist; Trump is pictured here at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday
‘Juan Manuel has been unequivocal in his assertion that he never voluntarily left the country while he had DACA,’ said attorney Nora Preciado. ‘We believe him. Rather than continue to provide half-truths and varying assertions, DHS should respond to our request for documentation. We will see them in court.’
Montes, who came to the United States when he was 9 years old, 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. He is currently in Mexico.
Homeland Security said Montes was convicted of shoplifting in July 2016. His lawyers acknowledged in the lawsuit that he had a misdemeanor on his record and ‘minor traffic offenses,’ none of which would have disqualified him from DACA.
The government has issued nearly 800,000 DACA permits since President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012 and nearly 700,000 renewals.