President Trump will confront a familiar figure in the lawsuit over a DREAMer who was deported by federal immigration agents: U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
He's the judge who oversaw a lawsuit involving Trump University who Trump accused of being biased because of his "Mexican heritage." Curiel, who was born in Indiana, approved a $25 million settlement between Trump and students who claimed they overpaid for real estate seminars. Trump didn't admit any wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.
Now, Curiel has been assigned to handle a lawsuit brought on behalf of Juan Manuel Montes, 23, a California resident who was deported in February despite being approved for the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protective status for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
Curiel's assignment to the case was completely coincidental, according to rules for the Southern District of California. Kari Hong, an assistant professor at Boston College Law School who used to be an attorney in California, said judges are selected based on a rotating schedule. The court sets up a list of available judges and they are assigned each case as they come in.
Hong said judges regularly recuse themselves from cases if there is a conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict of interest or if the judge has a financial stake in the outcome of the case. She said it's highly unlikely Curiel would recuse himself based solely on the derogatory comments Trump made about him.
"Simply being attacked by the President isn't a conflict of interest. If that were the standard, the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't handle a single case," she said, referring to the San Francisco-based appeals court that shot down Trump's attempts to institute a travel ban against six majority-Muslim countries.
Curiel will be asked to decide whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection should release information on Montes' deportation to his team of attorneys.
Montes said he was arrested and deported from the southern California city of Calexico on Feb. 17 for no reason. He tried to re-enter the country two days later by climbing over the border wall, but was arrested again and deported back to Mexico where he remains.
The Department of Homeland Security said Curiel had DACA status, but violated that status when he left the country. DACA enrollees must be approved by the federal government before traveling outside the country.
Montes' attorneys say the only reason he left the country is because he was deported.
No court date has been set.
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