When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained Daniel Ramírez Medina in February, he became one of the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in danger of deportation under the Trump administration. As such, his story garnered national attention. And when a string of other young immigrants in the DACA program were caught in the ICE dragnet intended to catch a wider range of undocumented immigrants, many of their stories also received coverage. But 23-year-old Juan Manuel Montes’ story slipped under the radar – as have the stories of many others. And now the young immigrant is fighting to return to his home in California after his deportation to Mexico.
On February 17, as Montes waited for a ride after leaving his girlfriend’s home in Calexico, California, a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer began to question him. Montes, who had left his ID in a friend’s car, couldn’t prove at the time that he had DACA protection. According to USA Today – the outlet that broke the story – the agent told him he couldn’t retrieve his documentation. “They detained me, they took me to a center, they asked me a lot of questions, and I signed a lot of papers,” Montes told The Guardian.
Juan, who struggled in school due to a childhood brain injury, didn’t understand what he was signing, and he doesn’t have any copies of the documents. After that, officers walked him to the border in Mexicali. His entire deportation process took three hours from his encounter with the CBP officer.
In 2012, then-President Barack Obama enacted DACA to give undocumented immigrants brought into the country at a young age protection from deportation, as well as make it easier for them to work and attend school. Though Obama’s measure changed the lives of many undocumented immigrants across the country, some didn’t think DACA was enough. For one, it didn’t provide a path to citizenship. It also meant that the government had access to the information of many in the undocumented community. This criticism became especially pertinent after Donald Trump clinched the presidential election in November. Many feared that Trump would use these details to mass deport these young people who had come out of the shadows.
Throughout the presidential election, Trump vowed to deport the more than 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. Though Obama deported more than 2.5 million people, many undocumented immigrants braced themselves for heightened danger in the era of Trump. In January, Trump told DACA recipients that “they shouldn’t be very worried” about deportations because of his “big heart.”
However soon after that, ICE detained DACA recipients like Daniel Ramírez Medina and Daniela Vargas. Because of the efforts of their legal teams and the activist community, ICE released both of them. But Greisa Martínez, an advocacy director with United We Dream, states that ICE currently has at least 10 DACA beneficiaries in custody. The Department of Homeland Security informed VOA that it has deported 43 DACA recipients since Trump took office. Currently, 676 DACA recipients are in removal proceedings and 90 are detained. We reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and CBP and couldn’t get any further clarification about the DACA recipients status.
“We’ve seen Trump and (Department of Homeland Security Secretary) John Kelly say, ‘The DACA program is alive and well,’” she said. “We’ve seen (House Speaker) Paul Ryan look straight into the eyes of one of our members and say, ‘You have nothing to worry about.’ And then this happens.”
Juan’s the first-known DACA recipient to be deported. When he arrived in Mexico, he asked his friend to drive across the border to return his wallet. Soon after, he became victim of a mugging and assault. He immediately tried to return home. After seeing a group trying to cross into the United States using a rope to climb over a border wall, Juan joined them. Agents quickly caught and deported him. He now works at a gas station and a tortilla mill in Mexico.
Some of his critics argue his four convictions are reason enough to deport him. Juan – charged once for shoplifting and three times for driving without a license – had recently renewed his DACA, meaning that these infractions didn’t make him ineligible for the program. DACA should have protected him until 2018.
Republican Congressman Steve King reveled in the fact that unlike many other DACA recipients, Juan didn’t fit the profile of the good immigrant that’s highlighted as a model. With our community sometimes falling into the trap of respectability politics, it’s necessary to note that immigrants often have pressure to be better than average. The mistakes Juan made shouldn’t follow him for the rest of his life. And they certainly don’t make him less deserving of staying in the United States – the place he’s called home for nearly 15 years.
And Juan’s ready to fight. After filing a Freedom of Information Act request that went unanswered, he filed a lawsuit against the US Customs and Border Protection and US Citizenship and Immigration Services to get answers on his deportation.
“Juan Manuel was funneled across the border without so much as a piece of paper to explain why or how,” said Nora A. Preciado, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said according to NBC News. “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.”
NILC director Marielena Hincapié adds that not having his wallet isn’t enough grounds to remove someone from the country. As his legal team seeks answers, the activist community puts pressures on Secretary Kelly and the Trump Administration. United We Dream began a petition, which has received 15,000 signatures already. (Sign it here.) Today, the organization will host an emergency rally for Juan in Washington DC from 4 to 6 p.m. Learn more here.