AP/Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:13
Judge targeted by Trump to hear Dreamer's case
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew/AP
President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Now playing
01:17
Trump to migrants: Make your nations great again
Central American immigrants depart ICE custody, pending future immigration court hearings on June 11, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Thousands of undocumented immigrants continue to cross into the U.S., despite the Trump administration's recent "zero tolerance" approach to immigration policy.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
John Moore/Getty Images
Central American immigrants depart ICE custody, pending future immigration court hearings on June 11, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. Thousands of undocumented immigrants continue to cross into the U.S., despite the Trump administration's recent "zero tolerance" approach to immigration policy. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:06
Judge blocks asylum seekers from deportation
Pool
Now playing
01:51
Trump: I prefer shutdown before midterms
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 29:  Demonstrators hold a rally in the Little village neighborhood calling for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an end to family detentions on June 29, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Protests have erupted around the country recently as people voice outrage over the separation and detention of undocumented children and their parents.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 29: Demonstrators hold a rally in the Little village neighborhood calling for the elimination of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an end to family detentions on June 29, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Protests have erupted around the country recently as people voice outrage over the separation and detention of undocumented children and their parents. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:30
HHS refusing to release family separation stats
Now playing
01:01
Reporter to Sarah Sanders: Why did Trump lie?
Now playing
01:28
Trump: ICE agents are mean but have heart
Pool
Now playing
01:23
Trump: Our facilities better than Obama's
trump king of jordan visit
CNN
trump king of jordan visit
Now playing
01:15
Trump: No regrets signing executive order
Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a former Job Corps site that now houses them, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/AP
Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a former Job Corps site that now houses them, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Now playing
01:54
Children in limbo after Trump executive order
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Now playing
02:18
White House chaos over immigration reversal
Watched by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (L) and Vice President Mike Pence, US President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration in the Oval Office of the White House on June 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order aimed at putting an end to the controversial separation of migrant families at the border, reversing a harsh practice that had earned international scorn."It's about keeping families together," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "I did not like the sight of families being separated," he added. (Photo by Mandel Ngan / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Watched by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (L) and Vice President Mike Pence, US President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration in the Oval Office of the White House on June 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order aimed at putting an end to the controversial separation of migrant families at the border, reversing a harsh practice that had earned international scorn."It's about keeping families together," Trump said at the signing ceremony. "I did not like the sight of families being separated," he added. (Photo by Mandel Ngan / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:49
What's next after Trump's policy reversal?
Trump meeting 06202018
POOL
Trump meeting 06202018
Now playing
02:33
Trump reverses position on family separations
President Donald Trump signs an executive order to keep families together at the border, but says that the 'zero-tolerance' prosecution policy will continue, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Standing behind Trump are Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left, and Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Donald Trump signs an executive order to keep families together at the border, but says that the 'zero-tolerance' prosecution policy will continue, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. Standing behind Trump are Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left, and Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Now playing
01:52
Trump signs executive order to end family separations
CNN
Now playing
01:18
Trump: Take children away to prosecute parents
THE PRESIDENT meets with the National Space Council  In-House Pool (Pre-set 9:30AM | Final Gather 11:15AM -- Palm Room Doors)
Pool
THE PRESIDENT meets with the National Space Council In-House Pool (Pre-set 9:30AM | Final Gather 11:15AM -- Palm Room Doors)
Now playing
01:40
Trump: The US will not be a migrant camp

Story highlights

The case has put in sharp focus the murky position of the Trump administration on a key immigration program

Trump was harshly criticized last year for his criticisms of the judge, who is of Mexican heritage

(CNN) —  

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 was assigned to hear the case of a man who claims he was improperly 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.

Now, Curiel is assigned to hear the case of Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, 23, who his lawyers allege 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.

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 and several repudiations from prominent Republicans.

The lawsuit, which is brought under the Freedom of Information Act, has already become a flashpoint in the Trump administration’s immigration policy and the President’s murky position on DACA.

Curiel’s involvement is sure to increase the publicity surrounding the case, which is already shaping up to be one of the more high-profile challenges to execution of Trump’s immigration agenda. The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the President feels Curiel will be a fair judge in the matter.

Shifting positions on DACA

The President’s own position on DACA has evolved. Trump pledged to end DACA during the 2016 campaign, but the Department of Homeland Security has continued issuing permits and he has since spoken about how sympathetic he finds the people in DACA – undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children who, in many cases, know no other home.

“We’re going to show great heart,” Trump said at a news conference in February. “DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.”

But he also spoke of possible abuses of the DACA program in the same thought, saying in “some of the cases, having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely, incredible kids, I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way – it’s a very – it’s a very, very tough subject.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has insisted the administration has not detained or deported anyone with an active DACA status, but several former DACA recipients have been detained and, in some cases like Montes’, the government has maintained that a violation of the program forfeited the status.

Lawyers for Montes say their client was apprehended by Border Patrol and deported on February 18. DHS said Wednesday that never happened.

While DHS initially said Tuesday they had a record of Montes’ DACA status expiring in 2015, they released further information Wednesday saying he did, in fact, have DACA status until 2018, agreeing with lawyers for Montes.

07:20 - Source: CNN
Donald Trump's full CNN interview with Jake Tapper

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. He was sent back to Mexico the following day, where he is now staying.

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 and others to call into question whether DHS is being honest about its position.

The lawsuit is seeking records about Montes’ interactions with Customs and Border Patrol, and also any appropriate relief for Montes including attorney fees.

’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.