DETROIT — Immigration officials are defending the deportation of Jorge Garcia, a metro Detroit man whose case has sparked national attention since he was removed from the U.S. on Monday.
In a statement, the Detroit office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that they had previously “exercised prosecutorial discretion” in allowing him to stay in the U.S. But that discretion ended in November when ICE told him he now had to leave.
Garcia, a married father of two from Lincoln Park, had lived in the U.S. since 1989, brought to the U.S. by undocumented family members. He had struggled for years to become a legal resident, trying various paths with the help of attorneys and working with immigration officials.
Though Garcia faced orders of removal, U.S. officials had allowed him for years to stay. But that changed in November, when he was told by ICE that he would be removed, part of a toughening of immigration enforcement under President Trump.
His deportation on Martin Luther King Jr. Day sparked a national outcry, with a wide range of commentators and officials — both conservative and liberal — calling it an outrageous move. Others defended Garcia’s deportation, saying he didn’t have legal status to remain in the U.S.
In a statement Tuesday night, Detroit ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said: “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.”
Walls said that Garcia was “an unlawfully present citizen of Mexico” who “was ordered removed by an immigration judge in June 2006.”
ICE said in its statement that Garcia “appealed his removal in 2008 to the Board of Immigration Appeals, where it was remanded back to the lower court, which subsequently allowed him to voluntarily depart. After he failed to depart within the timeline of the agreement, he became subject to a final order of removal in 2009.
“ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion on multiple prior occasions in Mr. Garcia-Martinez’s case in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In a further exercise of discretion during the this period, Mr. Garcia-Martinez was never detained.”
“On Jan. 15, Mr. Martinez was removed pursuant to the judge’s removal order.”
First reported by the Detroit Free Press, Garcia’s deportation has been widely reported by a number of media outlets and generated criticism from many readers, elected officials, church leaders, and advocacy groups.
Garcia’s family is trying to help get him returned to the U.S., but the process could take at least 10 years, said his wife, Cindy Garcia. He said he’s planning to live for now in the Mexico City area.
Speaking to the Free Press Sunday night on the eve of the deportation, the Garcias said they spent about $125,000 on attorneys and filing fees trying to get Jorge legal status.
Garcia said he was too old to qualify for DACA. He said he has asked ICE if they could delay his Jan. 15 deportation until after Congress passes legislation on DACA that may include people in his age group, but ICE refused.