DETROIT — His arms wrapped around his wife and two teenage children, Jorge Garcia’s eyes welled up Monday as he looked into their eyes one last time near the entrance to the airport security gate.
His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia’s shoulder as they hugged, with two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents keeping a close eye on them.
After 30 years of living in the United States, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper from Lincoln Park, Mich., was deported on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to Mexico, a move his supporters say is another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.
An undocumented family member brought Jorge Garcia to the U.S. when he was 10 years old. Today he has a wife and two children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
Jorge Garcia had been facing an order of removal from immigration courts since 2009, but under the previous administration, he had been given stays of removal. Because of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, in November Jorge Garcia was ordered to return to Mexico.
His supporters say he has no criminal record — not even a traffic ticket — and pays taxes every year.
Nevertheless, Jorge Garcia had to be removed, ICE agents said. On Monday morning, accompanied by the government agents, Jorge Garcia went through security at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as supporters around him held up signs that read, “Stop separating families.”
“We love you, Jorge,” said Mayra Valle of Detroit as he hugged his wife and children. “They’re a good family. They’re hard-working. … This is so sad. This is outrageous. We never expected this would happen.”
Jorge Garcia is too old to qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before age 16 and were born after June 15, 1981, to legally work and study here.
Jorge Garcia said he had asked ICE officials if they could wait until new DACA legislation is passed, which might expand the age range for immigrants to qualify. But they refused and said he had to leave by Jan. 15.
“How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?” said Erik Shelley, a leader with Michigan United that advocates for immigrant rights and other issues. “It’s another example of the tone-deafness of this administration. … If Jorge isn’t safe, no one is safe.”
Shelley said he’s concerned that minority immigrants increasingly are being targeted, citing remarks Trump has made about African and Hispanic immigrants. Other immigrant advocates and an official with the United Auto Workers joined him at the airport.
An ICE spokesman told the Free Press on Monday that he could not immediately comment because it was a federal holiday and ICE offices were closed.
“I feel kind of sad,” Jorge Garcia said Sunday night, his hands interlocked, pressed against his forehead in worry. “I got to leave my family behind, knowing that they’re probably going to have a hard time adjusting, me not being there for them for who knows how long. It’s just hard.”
Especially painful will be the separation from his children, Soleil and Jorge Garcia Jr., 12. The Garcias said their 12-year-old son has been taking the news hard, not expressing himself, which is concerning his parents.
“I’m going to be sad because I’m not going to be able to be with them,” Jorge Garcia said at the table of a friend in southwest Detroit hosting a farewell party for him. … It’s going to be kind of hard for me to adjust, too.”
Jorge Garcia may be barred from entering the U.S. for at least 10 years, Cindy Garcia said. Diego Bonesatti, legal services director for Michigan United, and others have been fighting for Jorge Garcia for years and now will try to get him back.
Jorge Garcia’s wife is a U.S. citizen, but being married to a U.S. citizen does not automatically qualify immigrants for legal residency.
Immigrant advocates say deporting people like Jorge Garcia is ripping up families and communities that have been losing population. Immigrants such as Jorge Garcia are an asset that stabilize and grow metro Detroit, they said.
“It’s like plucking a main artery, like, their lifeline, taking it from them and then just putting it somewhere else,” said family friend Norma Garza Jones, 44, of Detroit. “Those that are left behind are left to just try and compensate for that artery that main blood vessel, you know, that’s been pulled from them.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Bonesatti said. “If you’re going to pick someone who’s ideal,” he would be it.
“He came at age 10,” the Michigan United legal services director said. “He’s never been in trouble, period. He’s never even gotten a traffic ticket.”
Moreover, Mexico is a foreign place for him, and he’s worried about finding work and creating a new life.
“This is his home,” Bonesatti said. “This is the place he knows.”
The administration wouldn’t even stop the deportations on a national holiday, said Adonis Flores, an immigrant rights leader at Michigan United, calling it shameful.
Cindy Garcia, a retired Dearborn, Mich., truck plant worker, worries about supporting her family.
“It’s a nightmare coming to life,” she said. “You have no choice but to face it head on and accept what is being thrown at you because there is nothing else that you can do.”