Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, a twenty-three-old Mexican man living in California, is one of the first “DREAMers” to be deported by President Trump, immigration advocates and lawyers are claiming; a removal that would contradict the stated policy by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that does not prioritize DACA recipients for removal. The US government and lawyers for Montes have differing versions of the story surrounding Montes’s removal from the US. The US government is claiming that Montes voluntarily left the US and illegally tried to reenter, thus violating the conditions of his DACA status, and lawyers for Montes allege that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents removed him from the US despite his valid DACA status.
Montes, who was brought to the US as a child and held a job picking fruits and vegetables while studying to be a welder, is a “DREAMer,” a beneficiary of former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a fact that both the US government and lawyers for Montes confirm. Montes and his lawyer claim that when Montes was walking to a taxi station in Calexico, California, a CBP agent on a bicycle stopped him and requested identification. Since Montes had accidentally left his wallet in a friend’s car, Montes’s lawyers say, he had no identification on him and no way of proving his legal status in the US. The officer took Montes into custody that night, February 17, driving him to a station near the border, and hours later, at about 1am, immigration officials took Montes across the border, removing him from the United States and leaving him in Mexico, according to his lawyers.
DHS disputes this claim. While DHS now confirms that Montes was approved for DACA status lasting until 2018, they have no records of detaining him the night of February 17 and removing him hours later. Instead, they confirm that Montes tried to illegally enter the United States and was arrested by the border patrol on February 19. Montes acknowledges that he tried to re-enter the US illegally on February 19 after having been assaulted days after his initial removal on February 17. Fearing for his safety after the attack, Montes attempted to return to the US illegally. He hid on the north side of the border for a short time, and then turned himself in to immigration officers, whereupon he was again removed to Mexico. Montes claims this was his second removal, while DHS is claiming this was the only removal.
“During Mr. Montes-Bojorquez’s detention and arrest by the United States Border Patrol on February 19, he admitted to agents that he had illegally entered the United States and was arrested,” David Lapan, a DHS spokesman says in a statement to the Washington Post, noting that Montes admitted the same under oath. “All of the arrest documents from February 19, 2017, bear Montes-Bojorquez’s signature. During his arrest interview, he never mentioned that he had received DACA status.” Lapan adds that “even if Montes-Bojorquez had informed agents of his DACA status, he had violated the conditions of his status by breaking continuous residency in the US by leaving and then reentering the US illegally.”
Attorneys on behalf of Montes have filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act demanding that the federal government turn over all information about Montes’s removal. Nora Preciado, a Los Angeles attorney with the National Immigration Law Center and one of the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, says that the lawyers on March 15 requested all records of Montes’s interactions with immigration authorities, but DHS hasn’t provided any. “Juan Manuel has been unequivocal in his assertion that he never voluntarily left the country while he had DACA,” Preciado tells the Washington Post. “We believe him. We filed a FOIA lawsuit to get answers. Rather than continue to provide half-truths and varying assertions, DHS should respond to our request for documentation.”
Further complicating the situation, Montes suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child and has a cognitive disability, the lawsuit claims, and he was enrolled in special education classes through high school. In a statement, Montes says: “I was forced out because I was nervous and didn’t know what to do or say. 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.”
Montes’s removal heightens fears that DACA recipients are now being targeted for deportation, despite Trump’s previous pledge to “show great heart” toward them. Although the Trump administration has issued executive orders and memos aimed to dramatically increase deportations, it has not yet overturned the DACA program, which grants renewable, two-year work permits to more than 750,000 immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children. Trump at times expressed sympathy for DACA recipients: “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have because you have these incredible kids.” He tried to reassure DACA-recipients in a separate interview, saying: “We are not after the DREAMers, we are after the criminals…The DREAMers should rest easy.”
Not everyone in Trump’s administration appears to agree. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions tells Fox that DACA enrollees are not the government’s deportation priority, but refused to say they would not be deported. “DACA enrollees are not being targeted...The policy is that if people are here unlawfully, they’re subject to being deported.” He adds: “We can’t promise people who are here unlawfully that they’re not going to be deported.” DHS Secretary John Kelly says that Sessions is correct to say that DREAMers “are subject to deportation,” but clarifies: “That’s what the law says. Now what we actually do is another story. My organization has not targeted these so-called DREAMers...We have many, many more important criminals to go after."
Many DACA beneficiaries feel under the Trump administration they have a reason to fear deportation. In early February this year, DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina was detained, a case that drew national attention. He was released in March. Other DREAMers who have been arrested include Emmanuel Ayala Frutos and Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez, who were both arrested recently by ICE in Portland, and Daniela Vargas, who was arrested in early March after sharing her family's immigration story during a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi. Two weeks later Vargas was released. Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, says these conflicting messages are confusing. “It’s not clear what we can trust, what statement we can believe in. And that causes a great deal of, not just anxiety, but confusion, not just for those immigrant communities but for our law enforcement personnel.”