Lawyers for the only known DREAMer deported by the Trump administration filed supporting statements in court Friday from people on both sides of the Mexican border who corroborate Juan Manuel Montes' account that immigration agents wrongly forced him across the border.
The court filings include statements from the last people to see the 23-year-old Montes in the U.S. and the first people to see him in Mexico after he was deported by Customs and Border Protection agents shortly after midnight on Feb. 19 from Calexico, Calif., where he lived with his family since age 9.
Montes, an undocumented immigrant who had protections against deportation under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), said he had just finished dinner with a friend and was hailing a ride home when he was seized by agents on the street and forced across the border.
The Department of Homeland Security said it has no record that agents deported Montes that night. Instead, the department said, Montes crossed the border into Mexico voluntarily, immediately revoking his DACA status, which shields undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
All of those who made statements on Montes' behalf said he had no intention of going to Mexico and was visibly shaken when he found himself back in his native country.
Both sides agree on what happened next: Montes tried to re-enter the following night by jumping the border wall, was caught by Border Patrol agents and deported back to Mexico.
The new filing in federal court in southern California shines new light on the Trump administration's controversial moves to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants. Montes' lawyers are asking a judge to order Homeland Security to let him return home.
President Trump campaigned to end the DACA program, but maintained the program after taking office and said he will treat protected DREAMers "with great heart." Still, Trump's immigration agents have said these young immigrants are not immune from deportation. On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly warned that the program may soon be struck down by federal courts.
When USA TODAY first reported Montes' case on April 18, Homeland Security said his DACA status had expired in 2015. The next day, the department changed its account, saying his DACA status was active, but that it was revoked the moment he voluntarily left the U.S.
Montes' attorneys say the only reason he left the country was because he was deported.
The new filings include a statement from Gil Kerlikowske, who served as the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection until Trump became president. Homeland Security said Montes could not have been telling the truth because under an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, agents no longer deport people between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In his sworn statement, Kerlikowske did not personally vouch for Montes' account, but he challenged Homeland Security's assertion that middle-of-the-night deportations no longer take place.
"I would not be surprised that repatriations in violation of the arrangements continued to exist," Kerlikowske wrote.
In another statement, Danielle Jimenez said she had dinner with Montes at her home on the U.S. side of the border on Feb. 18. She said they had a calm night eating and chatting, and that Montes didn't say a word about going to Mexico.
"Juan said he was going home when he left my house," Jimenez said. "I told him to text me when he got home, because I wanted to make sure he was safe. I texted him a few times that night, but got no response."
A few hours later, another friend of Montes on the Mexican side of the border said she received a series of frantic calls from him. Leslie Ramirez said she picked up the phone and was shocked to hear him say he was in Mexico because he had always said his immigration status barred him from leaving the U.S.
Ramirez said when she met him, he emotionally explained how he had been deported.
"He was holding back tears, and it was clear to me that he was too embarrassed to cry in front of me," Ramirez said. "Juan Manuel told me that he didn’t understand why he had been kicked out and didn’t know what to do."
In his statement, Montes says he left Jimenez's house that night and was waiting by a taxi stand when he was approached by a federal officer, who he believed was a Customs and Border Protection agent. The agent asked for his identification, but Montes said he had left his wallet in a friend's car.
Montes says he was taken to the Calexico border station and questioned along with other undocumented immigrants. At about 1 a.m., Montes said, he and others were driven to the border, told to get out of the car and instructed to start walking.
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"I could tell that was the way to Mexicali," Montes said, referring to the Mexican city just across the border. "I listened to him. I didn't think I had a choice. I knew he was kicking me out of the country, but I didn't know why."
When Montes' lawyers filed the lawsuit in April, they wrote that Montes was first detained by immigration agents "on or about February 17." After interviewing witnesses and checking his cell phone records, they identified that he was detained on Feb. 18 and deported early in the morning on Feb. 19.
Ever since he was deported, Montes has been living with relatives in western Mexico. In an April interview with USA TODAY, he said he was eager to get back home to continue his education and reunite with his family. And he said he was still shocked that he had fallen victim to Trump's deportation machine.
"Some people told me that they were going to deport me; others said nothing would happen," Montes said at the time. "I thought that if I kept my nose clean nothing would happen."
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