Federal agents have deported a “Dreamer” to Mexico, possibly the first such documented case under Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Juan Manuel Montes, 23, was supposedly protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) programme but agents detained and swiftly expelled him in February, it emerged on Tuesday.
Montes had lived in the US since the age of nine and obtained de facto amnesty from an Obama-era policy that Trump has kept intact, citing his “big heart”.
But US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers approached him on the street in Calexico, on California’s border with Mexico, and deported him three hours later without giving him a chance to fetch his active Daca permit.
The news, first reported by USA Today, prompted an outcry from immigrant activists and others who used the hashtag #JusticeForJuan.
“Juan Montes was the target of abusive law enforcement officers and deported from his family and home,” said Greisa Martinez, advocacy director of United We Dream, and herself a Daca beneficiary.
“We demand #JusticeForJuan and demand that he be allowed to return home. Immigrant youth and communities across the country will not stop fighting and organizing until Juan Montes wins justice and freedom.”
Trump met Dreamers before running for president and after taking office retained Daca protections, which cover more than 750,000 undocumented immigrants, signalling they would escape his immigration crackdown. “They shouldn’t be very worried,” he told ABC News in January. “I do have a big heart.”
Even so, at least 10 have been detained, according to United We Dream. Montes, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child, appears to be the first to be deported.
He had spent the evening of 17 February with his girlfriend and was looking for a ride home when a CBP officer approached, he told USA Today.
“They detained me, they took me to a center, they asked me a lot of questions, and I signed a lot of papers.”
Montes said he could not understand anything he signed and received no copies. Officers walked him to the border and released him into Mexicali.
Soon after he was mugged and beaten, he said. Desperate to return home, he followed some people who used a rope to scale a border barrier, only to be swiftly captured, detained and deported again.
He currently works at a gas station and a tortilla mill, and lives with an uncle and aunt at an undisclosed location in western Mexico.
Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has long advocated for Dreamers, demanded homeland security explain Montes’s expulsion.
A group of immigrant rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit in a California federal court asking CBP to release details of the encounter which led to Montes’s detention.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, part of Montes’ legal team, said the case would chill immigrants. “How does an immigrant family today know that this is not going to happen to them?”
United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center have launched a petition asking John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, to let Montes return.
Montes reportedly has four convictions, one for shoplifting in January 2016, and three for driving without a license, most recently three months ago. These convictions are not serious enough to forfeit Daca protections, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that approves Daca applications.
“Some people told me that they were going to deport me; others said nothing would happen,” Montes told USA Today. “I thought that if I kept my nose clean nothing would happen.”
According to figures from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and Mexico’s foreign ministry deportations have slightly declined (so far) since Trump moved into the White House.
However Ice and CBP agents have set off alarm bells by targeting categories of non-criminals considered off-limits during the Obama era.
Immigration arrests spiked 32.6% in the in the first weeks of Trump’s administration, according to Ice figures released to the Washington Post, suggesting that deportations wills rise once those detained are processed.