About a year after becoming a household name during the presidential election, US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel will preside over a high-profile case involving a deported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. During the campaign, Judge Curiel was tasked with ruling on a civil suit brought against Trump University, and found himself thrust into the spotlight after Trump suggested on multiple occasions that Curiel’s Mexican heritage impinged on his ability to remain neutral.
“I think it has to do with, perhaps, the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border – very, very strong on the border,” Trump said according to ABC News. “He has been extremely hostile to me. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe.”
Despite outrage over the bigoted nature of his comments, Trump stubbornly doubled down and denied that they were racist in nature. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater,” he said during a campaign rally in San Diego. “His name is Gonzalo Curiel, and he is not doing the right thing.”
Now, in a stranger than fiction plot twist, Curiel finds himself once again in the spotlight – this time with a case involving DACA beneficiary Juan Manuel Montes. Through DACA, Montes was granted protection from deportation, as well as the ability to attend school and work. Montes – who has four convictions, none of them serious enough to affect his DACA eligibility – had protection from deportation until 2018.
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 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.
Montes put in a Freedom of Information Act request to learn why DACA didn’t save him from deportation. When that went unanswered, he filed a lawsuit against the US Customs and Border Protection and US Citizenship and Immigration Services to get answers. Now Curiel will provide some clarity on this case – which is full of contradictions. The outcome will set a precedent about how immigration officials interact with DACA recipients. While media reports have labeled Montes first DACA recipient to be deported under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security informed VOA that it has deported 43 DACA recipients since Trump took office.
In 2012, then-President Barack Obama enacted DACA. When Trump campaigned, he vowed to put an end to the program. since he took office at the beginning of the year, his administration hasn’t made an official decision on DACA. In January, Trump told DACA recipients that “they shouldn’t be very worried” about deportations because of his “big heart.”