Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a well-respected federal judge with a strong record of impartial decision-making, isn’t having the easiest year, professionally speaking. First, he oversaw the class-action lawsuit against Trump University during the election, which pushed him into the national spotlight when then-candidate Donald Trump, unhappy with Curiel’s rulings, repeatedly declared that the judge could not be impartial because he was “a Mexican” and Trump was “building a wall.” (Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican American parents.)
It turns out that Curiel will continue to resolve Trump-related disputes. On Wednesday, the judge was assigned a blockbuster case: the lawsuit filed by a dreamer who argues that he was unlawfully deported.
Juan Manuel Montes, the dreamer in question, is a participant in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, to which Trump has said he will continue to adhere. As a DACA beneficiary, Montes—who was brought to the United States at age 9—has a legal right to live and work here. But in February, Montes was approached by a suspicious Customs and Border Protection agent. Montes’ proof of DACA status was in his wallet in a friend’s car, but the CBP officer refused to let him retrieve the wallet. Instead, he detained Montes, and had him deported within three hours. Montes is the first dreamer to be deported under Trump.
Montes argues that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment bars the government from denying him the liberty to live in the U.S. after promising to let him remain in the country. His suit wound up on Curiel’s docket by chance; cases filed in district court are randomly assigned to judges in the district. Curiel will now have to decide whether Trump’s administration can legally detain and deport individuals who were guaranteed the right to live and work in the U.S.
In a different but very similar case in Seattle, an all-star team of legal scholars are arguing that such deportations are certainly unconstitutional. They insist that due process prevents the government from capriciously revoking DACA status, since DACA creates a constitutionally protected liberty interest. Legally speaking, it seems likely we’ll see Curiel affirm this principle and require the Trump administration to allow deported dreamers like Montes back into the country. What is more than a little sad is that every twist in this case will be colored by the toxic memory of the rank bigotry that the now-president has directed toward this independent judge.