The Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to crack down on illegal immigration into the United States, claiming that stricter rules and policy reform is the only way to decrease the threat it believes undocumented immigrants pose to the nation. But critics argue that, in many cases, these arrests and deportations are tearing apart families for no good reason — and one example they are citing is that of 39-year-old Jorge Garcia. Garcia, a father, was deported to Mexico after 30 years in the U.S., and in the process, the Michigan dad had to leave his American wife and their two children behind.
In an interview with NBC News, Garcia's wife, Cindy, said that her husband's deportation had been "a nightmare that came to life" for her and her children, all of whom are United States citizens. The decision to deport Garcia wasn't exactly a surprise to the family: Cindy said he received a formal final order of removal from the country in 2009, after botched paperwork intended to change his immigration status ended up flagging him for deportation three years prior. But supporters of the Garcia family argue that sending him back to Mexico was both unfair and unnecessary, as he was brought to the United States when he was only 10 years old — too young to have a say in the decision, but too old to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). (Though the Obama-era policy offers protection from deportation to children brought to the United States by their undocumented parents, it only applies to those born after June 1981.)
Given that Garcia pays taxes and has no criminal record — and given that he has also spent many years attempting to gain legal status in the United States — his family says he was granted stays under the administration of President Barack Obama, which opted to limit deportations to "public safety threats, convicted criminals and recent border crossers," according to The Los Angeles Times. In February, however, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly changed the policy, and it essentially left all undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
For Garcia, the official decision to deport him back to Mexico came in November, though according to The New York Post, the date was pushed to January after Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell issued a request to allow Garcia to spend the holidays with his family. On Monday, he said goodbye to his wife and children, and under the supervision of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), he boarded a flight to Mexico. Garcia said he wasn't sure how long it will be before he is reunited with his family, but it sounds like they won't be meeting on United States soil: now that he's been deported, ICE mandates that he will be unable to return for a decade.
Garcia is currently living in Mexico City with relatives, and though his native country is one he barely recognizes now, he told CNN that he intends to look for work. But Garcia said what he wants more than anything is to go back to his Michigan home and see his wife and kids, and wondered why the Trump administration considered it so necessary to deport him. He told CNN,
I didn't go into the country by my choice. I was a kid. So, I mean, I know there's laws, but I don't know. I think they should have some consideration for individual cases just like mine.
In a statement regarding Garcia's deportation, ICE told Romper it actually did "[exercise] prosecutorial discretion on multiple prior occasions," regarding his case, and that though Garcia was an "an unlawfully present citizen of Mexico" first ordered for removal by an immigration judge in 2006, he was never detained, and allowed by an appeals court "to voluntarily depart" (he chose not to, and was ultimately deported "pursuant to the judge's removal order" in January).
But ICE also emphasized that the circumstances surrounding Garcia's arrival in the United States did not change the fact that he remained an undocumented immigrant subject to deportation:
As ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.
There's no question that deportations have ramped up under Trump: in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, The Los Angeles Times reported that ICE officers made 143,470 arrests (an increase of 25 percent from the previous year) and 226,119 deportations. Since Trump's inauguration, ICE increased the number of deportations among those not detained during attempted border crossings — presumably, people like Garcia — by 37 percent, and in a response to the ICE data released by the government in December, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Elaine Duke sounded pleased with the increase. She said,
We have clearly seen the successful results of the president’s commitment to supporting the frontline officers and agents of [the Department of Homeland Security] as they enforce the law and secure our borders.
For now, the Garcia family remains separated indefinitely, which has to feel beyond excruciating. What makes it worse though, is knowing that Garcia — and surely countless others like him — likely had no say in the decision to come to the United States undocumented, yet he's still had to leave his family behind and go back to a country that doesn't at all feel like home.
The debate over undocumented immigrants is complex, and protecting the security of American citizens is, of course, incredibly important. But cases like Garcia's illustrate that there may be much more to consider than simply someone's immigration status. Without a recognized pathway to citizenship, Garcia has been forced to endure the consequence of someone else's decision — and so have his wife and children.
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