SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge who has been a frequent target of President Donald Trump's scorn on Tuesday urged a quick trial for a Mexican man who had been shielded from being deported from the U.S. and claims he was wrongly expelled.
Juan Manuel Montes, 23, is the first known participant in the five-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to be deported under Trump, according to supporters.
The government has approved nearly 1.8 million DACA permits, including renewals, since President Barack Obama introduced them in 2012 for immigrants who came to the country as young children and performed well.
The administration says Montes left the U.S. voluntarily, causing the loss of his protected status.
Montes' case doesn't address the program's legal or policy merits, focusing instead on a dispute about what happened to Montes on the night of Feb. 18.
The judge made clear from the outset that the crux of the case was whether agents wrongly captured and deported him or if he left on his own.
Montes said he finished dinner with a friend and was seeking a ride home in the California border town of Calexico when a Border Patrol agent stopped him.
When Montes failed to produce identification, he says agents questioned him for two hours in a building and drove him after midnight to the border with orders to walk into neighboring Mexicali, Mexico, without giving him any paperwork.
Both sides agree on what happened next: Montes tried to return to the United States the following night by jumping the border fence in Calexico, was caught by Border Patrol agents and deported to Mexico.
The Department of Homeland Security said it has no record that authorities deported Montes two nights earlier and insists that he crossed into Mexico voluntarily, violating a provision of the protective program that requires advanced permission to leave the country.
The judge proposed a trial in four to six weeks, a highly ambitious schedule that appeared to catch attorneys from both sides off guard.
Montes' attorneys said they would be interested in interviewing Border Patrol agents and witnesses and reviewing any surveillance video before trial. A government attorney said he wanted to interview Montes.
Curiel ordered the two sides to return to his courtroom Wednesday to discuss how to get the case to trial.
Curiel previously approved a settlement in a separate case for Trump to pay $25 million to end lawsuits alleging fraud at his now-defunct Trump University. As the Republican presidential front-runner last year, Trump suggested that the Indiana-born jurist's Mexican heritage prevented him from being impartial.
Montes, who came to the United States when he was 9, graduated from high school in 2013 and pursued a welding degree at a community college, according to his lawsuit. He then worked two years picking crops in California and Arizona.
He qualified for the DACA program in 2014 and renewed his status for two years in 2016. He currently lives in Mexico.
The Trump administration has sent mixed signals on DACA's future, allowing the program to continue but saying its fate is undecided. Several state attorneys general are threatening a legal challenge.