There's been a lot of confusion and argument over the deportation of Juan Manuel Montes, a 23-year-old Mexican-born man who entered the United States illegally as a child but received legal protection under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
A story in USA Today on Tuesday with the headline, "First protected DREAMer is deported under Trump" reported that "federal agents ignored President Trump's pledge to protect from deportation undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children by sending a young man back to his native Mexico." The paper reported that Montes had spent the evening of Feb. 17 with his girlfriend in Calexico, Calif., and was "waiting for a ride when a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer approached and started asking questions." The paper reported Montes did not have his ID or proof of his DACA status — he "had left his wallet in a friend's car" — and found himself deported within hours.
The case led to expressions of outrage by activists and others opposed to the Trump administration's border security policies. But the actual story, according to the Department of Homeland Security, is much different. In statements and an interview addressing the issue, the department describes what happened like this:
First, Montes did have DACA status, contrary to some earlier reports. "Our initial records check did not show that he had renewed his DACA," spokeswoman Jenny Burke said Wednesday. "His original DACA appeared to have expired in 2015, but after a thorough check we saw that he had renewed, and the expiration was Jan. 25, 2018."
So Montes had valid DACA status. That is, he had status until, according to DHS, he left the country, entered Mexico, and then attempted to return. "He was caught hopping the border fence [into the Unites States] on Feb. 19," Burke said. In an earlier statement, DHS said Montes "was apprehended by the Calexico Station Border Patrol after illegally entering the U.S. by climbing over the fence in downtown Calexico. He was arrested by Border Patrol just minutes after he made his illegal entry and admitted under oath during the arrest interview that he had entered illegally."
The interview was conducted in Spanish, DHS said.
Montes' problem, according to DHS, was that he left the United States without authorization, which is a clear reason for revocation of DACA status. If they want to travel outside the United States, people in the U.S. illegally but with DACA protection must apply for something called "advance parole." At that point U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "will determine whether your purpose for international travel is justifiable based on the circumstances you describe in your request," according to USCIS guidelines. Justifiable reasons include traveling to obtain medical treatment, to visit an ailing relative, attend a funeral, take part in a semester-abroad academic program, and more.
But DACA holders must apply for advance parole if they want to leave the country. If they don't, the consequences can be quite serious. This is from the USCIS guidelines:
CAUTION: If you travel outside the United States on or after August 15, 2012, without first receiving advance parole, your departure automatically terminates your deferred action under DACA.
And that is what Montes did, according to DHS. Indeed, the DHS account that Montes was caught climbing over the fence into the United States is a pretty strong suggestion that he was not following the prescribed procedures for international travel.
"Mr. Montes lost his DACA status when he left the United States without advanced parole on an unknown date prior to his arrest by the U.S. Border Patrol on Feb. 19, 2017," a DHS statement says.
As far as Montes' account of his encounter with Border Patrol, the DHS statement said, "The U.S. Border Patrol has no record of encountering Mr. Montes in the days before his detention and subsequent arrest for immigration violations on February 19, 2017. There are no records or evidence to support Montes' claim that he was detained or taken to the Calexico Port of Entry on February 18, 2017."
On the issue of whether Montes had a criminal record that would justify his deportation, DHS noted that he was convicted of shoplifting in July. USA Today reported that Montes also has "three [convictions] for driving without a license, most recently three months ago."
But according to DHS, it was Montes' departure from the U.S. and attempted illegal re-entry that caused his deportation. "The first part is, he left the country without obtaining advance parole," DHS spokeswoman Burke said Wednesday. "The second part is that he was crossing illegally."
Montes has filed suit demanding the government turn over documents in his case.
The key issue appears to be what Montes was doing when he encountered U.S. authorities. Montes claims he was inside the United States, just minding his own business, when he was approached, detained, and quickly deported. The Department of Homeland Security says Montes was caught hopping the border fence into the United States. If Montes is correct, he should not have been deported. But if the government's version is correct, Montes' deportation appears to be an open-and-shut case.