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‘Hard to see him go’

July 10, 2017 - 12:05am

A respected Kona coffee farmer who lived illegally in the United States for nearly 30 years said goodbye to his wife and three children Friday night before boarding flights he paid for to San Francisco, Houston and finally, Morelia, Mexico, ahead of an immigration deportation order, his daughter said.

Andres Magana Ortiz, 43, who called Hawaii home, has come to symbolize some of the shortcomings of immigration law under presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

“We said our goodbyes at home. My dad decided it was better for my brother and my sister to not go all the way to the airport,” 20-year-old daughter Victoria Magana Ledesma said Saturday of her 12- and 14-year-old siblings.

She said it was “more surreal than anything else” seeing her father go. “I don’t feel like it’s happening. And after so much fight that we went through, for it to just end like this. I mean, it’s not necessarily ending, but it is hard to see him go.”

Morelia, in the state of Michoacan in central Mexico, is the nearest stop to the village that Magana Ortiz left when he was 15 to come to the United States, Ledesma said in a phone interview.

Her father may try to get in contact with an aunt, she said.

“I think my grandma (Magana Ortiz’s mother) has a little house that he can stay in. It’s pretty old,” she said.

Magana Ortiz crossed the border from Mexico in 1989 without permission and eventually made his way to Hawaii as a migrant worker to pick coffee. He has risen to become one of the most respected farmers in the Kona district, leasing about 20 acres and helping run 15 other small farms.

“I love this country and I love these islands. If I have to leave, it’s going to be very hard on everyone,” Magana Ortiz said recently.

Magana Ortiz was a leader in efforts to control the coffee berry borer, a destructive pest discovered on Hawaii island in 2010, and collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on field tests.

The Obama administration started removal proceedings against Ortiz in 2011 but granted him a temporary stay in 2014. In March, he was ordered to leave as the Trump administration stepped up enforcement against people in the country illegally.

Last month, Magana Ortiz was granted a 30-day reprieve on the deportation order that came due at midnight Saturday.

A federal judge, Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in a May 30 opinion that while President Donald Trump has said he wants to target “bad hombres” in immigration enforcement, “the government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.”

Ortiz’ departure has left uncertainty for his family over his well-being in Mexico and their future in Hawaii.

“Financially, I don’t think we have any worries as of now,” his daughter said. “Of course, his business is what gives us stability. So the worry right now is that his business will fall through, because he is the head of it. So eventually the money will run out.”

She added that “we’re still fighting to get him back here.”

When she turns 21 on Aug. 7, Ledesma can file a petition as an American citizen for her father to get a visa and residency.

His wife, Brenda Cleveland-Reynolds, filed her own petition on his behalf for permanent residency. Hawaii’s congressional delegation also tried to intervene on Magana Ortiz’ behalf.

Ledesma, his daughter, said if an alien stays in the United States more than a year illegally and gets caught, the person can be barred from returning for 10 years.

She is hopeful one of the efforts being made to secure her father’s return will be successful. In the meantime, the family is caught up in immigration bureaucracy that has split them apart.

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