San Antonio U.S. Citizen Julio Cesar Ovalle was detained and deported to Mexico in June.
Julio Cesar Ovalle, a San Antonio resident and U.S. citizen, was detained and deported to Mexico in June. Credit: Courtesy / Julio Cesar Ovalle

A local law firm has filed a claim with the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of a San Antonio resident and U.S. citizen who was deported to Mexico earlier this year.

A press release Thursday from the Espinoza Law Firm stated that the federal government discriminated against Hispanics when they targeted Julio Cesar Ovalle based on his appearance. Ovalle was detained and deported to Mexico in June.

The claim filed by Espinoza Law Firm starts the legal process for Ovalle, attorney Javier Espinoza said.

The federal government has six months to respond to the claim, Espinoza said. Attorneys for Ovalle will then decide whether they will pursue further legal action.

“Or if we don’t hear back from them within six months, we can file a lawsuit,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to file the claim and get the process going.”

Attorneys for the 24-year-old Ovalle said he was stopped by a Border Patrol agent June 11 while walking to an H-E-B in Northwest San Antonio near his home. The agent detained him after Ovalle said he was a U.S. citizen but did not have identification. Ovalle was deported to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, the next day without seeing a judge, making a phone call, or having access to an attorney, according to the law firm’s press release.

The law firm also said that Ovalle called his father once he was in Mexico and waited outside the immigration center in Nuevo Laredo to be picked up. He was then abducted by a cartel and held for ransom. The FBI worked with its Mexican counterparts after Ovalle’s father traveled to its Laredo office and asked for help, and the cartel released Ovalle a few days later.

Ovalle was born in California, raised in Mexico, and returned to live in San Antonio with his family following his deportation. Attorneys for Ovalle said they were unable to make him available Thursday afternoon to speak to a reporter.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

“As per policy, CBP does not comment on matters under pending litigation,” a spokesperson said in an email.

The Espinoza Law Firm filed the claim in September against the federal agency and the specific Border Patrol agents who were involved with Ovalle’s detention and deportation.

“U.S. citizens should not be forced to carry their passports and birth certificates with them to feel safe from detainment and deportation,” Espinoza said. “We cannot permit the Constitutional rights of citizens to be encroached upon without recourse, and that is why we are standing up for Mr. Ovalle, Hispanics, and citizens of the United States against such blatant Constitutional violations.”

Espinoza added that Ovalle is still suffering from trauma because of the experience. The claim states that he has attempted suicide and been hospitalized since returning to the U.S.

“Mr. Ovalle is still getting medical treatment,” Espinoza said. “We’d like compensation to pay for the medical treatment. He still has deportation proceedings on his records, so we want that cleared, because a U.S. citizen should never have that on their record. We’d like to request training for the agents.”

Espinoza said he’s not aware of many other cases of wrongful deportation, but he believes incendiary rhetoric around immigration and Hispanics led to Ovalle’s deportation. While Ovalle has been living in San Antonio for the past six years, he spent most of his life in Mexico and does not speak English fluently. Espinoza said he thinks that led to improper profiling.

“We think it’s a huge violation of his rights because he was treated as an undocumented immigrant when he’s a U.S. citizen,” Espinoza said. “I met with him today, and as we’re talking and walking I asked him, ‘What’s that in your pocket?’ It was his passport. He never leaves his house without his passport anymore. That’s how traumatized he is.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.