A highly unusual and racially charged episode from the 2016 campaign suddenly resurfaced this week when a federal judge whom President Donald Trump repeatedly criticized last year was assigned to hear the case of a man who claims he was unfairly deported.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in the US but is of Mexican heritage, was attacked by Trump last year over his handling of a lawsuit against Trump University. Trump claimed Curiel could not impartially hear the case because of his background and Trump's hardline immigration policies. The case was eventually settled.
The deportation case concerns Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, 23, whose lawyers allege he was deported from California to Mexico earlier this year despite having active protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.
Curiel's involvement in the case is sure to increase the publicity surrounding the most notable test yet of the Trump administration's policies toward undocumented immigrants. Trump pledged to end DACA during the 2016 campaign, but the Department of Homeland Security has continued issuing permits.
And Trump's comments toward Curiel last year -- he called the Indiana-born judge a "hater" and a "Mexican" -- drew some of the loudest accusations of racism that the then-candidate faced during his campaign.
Lawyers for Montes, who is now in Mexico, say their client was apprehended by Border Patrol and deported on February 18. DHS said Wednesday that never happened.
Attorneys say Montes had renewed his DACA status, a protection for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children initiated under the Obama administration, in 2016, which would keep him protected until 2018, according to the lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
While DHS initially said Tuesday they had a record of Montes' DACA expiring in 2015, they released further information Wednesday saying he did, in fact, have DACA status until 2018.
The problem, though, is on the part of the story both sides agree on: Montes tried to sneak back into the US on February 19 and was caught by Border Patrol. DACA requires individuals to get pre-clearance to leave the country, and so Montes' re-entry then showed he had left without authorization and voided his status, DHS said.
The administration has said that it respects DACA and that no one with active status would be deported, but advocates are using the Montes case to call into question whether DHS is being honest about its position.
'The definition of racism'
Trump was condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike last year after he criticized Curiel's rulings in the Trump University case and attacked Curiel personally.
One of Trump's harshest rebukes came from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who described the language as "sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump's remarks "offensive and wrong" and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a staunch ally of Trump, called the comments "inexcusable" and "one of the worst mistakes Trump has made."
Trump later defended himself in a written statement, saying he did not believe "one's heritage (made) them incapable of being impartial."
"Based on the rulings that I have received in the Trump University civil case, I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial," Trump said. He also referenced "the core issues of my campaign that focus on illegal immigration, jobs and unfair trade" in explaining his criticism.
In a memorable exchange with CNN's Jake Tapper in June, Trump vociferously -- and repeatedly -- defended his claims that Curiel was biased.
"He's proud of his heritage. I respect him for that," Trump said, dismissing charges that his allegation was racist. "He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico."
At the end of a lengthy exchange, Tapper asked: "If you are saying he cannot do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?"
"No, I don't think so at all," Trump said.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on News | WPLG.