Juan Manuel Montes, 23, was sent back to Mexico within hours of his detention despite being protected due to his active Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status back in February. And on Wednesday, Curiel was assigned Montes' case.
But in June, then-candidate Trump accused Curiel of being biased against him in a case involving the president's for-profit university because he is “a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico ... he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can’t even believe.”
Despite this coincidence, Curiel received this lawsuit entirely by chance since judges rotate through cases in their area of jurisdiction, and Montes' suit was filed in the Southern District of California, which is covered by Curiel.
Despite Montes' status as a "Dreamer," officials with the Trump administration say that while he did hold an active DACA status until 2018, he chose to leave the country voluntarily without authorization. This, officials argue, was enough to revoke his permission to stay. But according to the young man's attorneys, Montes never left voluntarily. Instead, they maintain, he was deported.
A widely-covered case such as this is sure to grab a lot of attention, and Trump's troubled history with Curiel will probably resurface. Still, experts claim that the president's comments do not create a conflict of interest for Curiel as he reviews Montes' case.
Kevin Johnson, the dean of the University of California's law school in Davis, told NBC that this coincidence will continue to be brought up because the judge was “previously attacked — unfairly, I think — by candidate Trump.” Still, he added, he doesn't think “there's much of [a legal] issue here.”
Assistant professor at Boston College Law School Kari Hong told USA Today that the president frequently attacks judges who have ruled against him, and that “[s]imply 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 concluded.