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'Even the good hombres are not safe': Federal judge slams Trump deportations

A federal appeals court judge lamented Tuesday that he could not stop the “inhumane” deportation of a successful businessman in Hawaii whose wife and children are U.S. citizens who depend on his support.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reluctantly joined another jurist in rejecting an emergency appeal filed by Magana Ortiz, 43, a longtime coffee grower in Hawaii’s Kona region who has been in the country since the age of 15. He was working to obtain legal status when he was ordered under President Trump’s new border security rules to be deported back to Mexico.

“I concur as a judge, but as a citizen I do not,” Reinhardt wrote in a concurrence to the order rejecting Ortiz’s appeal.

Although he followed the law in Ortiz’s case, Reinhardt wrote separately to express his anguish over the consequences for Ortiz’s family and his bafflement that the U.S. government would deport such a man.

“President Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the`bad hombres,’” wrote Reinhardt, a Carter appointee and one of the most liberal federal appeals court judges in the nation. “The government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.”

Ortiz obtained a stay of deportation in 2014 so he could work toward legal status, Reinhardt said.

Ortiz’s wife, Brenda, filed the necessary legal papers more than a year ago, but action was still pending when President Trump took office. Subsequently, the stay was removed and deportation ordered.

It was unclear why the federal government sought the deportation. Records filed by administration lawyers were not available for public viewing on the court's docket.

By law, he will be barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years after deportation, Reinhardt noted.

After starting his own company, Ortiz worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in researching pests afflicting Hawaii’s coffee crop and allowed the government to use his farm without charge for a five-year study, facts which Reinhardt noted in his order.

“Magana Ortiz is by all accounts a pillar of his community and a devoted father and husband,” Reinhardt said. “It is difficult to see how the government’s decision to expel him is consistent with the President’s promise of an immigration system with `a lot of heart.’ I find no such compassion in the government’s choice to deport Magana Ortiz.”

Reinhardt traced the deportation to a series of executive orders Trump signed on Jan. 25. They dismantled a system of priorities that had previously guided immigration agents in deciding whom to deport and gave more latitude to individual agents and officers.

The orders have forced undocumented immigrants “to choose between going to work, school, hospitals, and even court, and the risk of being seized,” Reinhardt wrote.

Ortiz has three children, ages 12,14, and 20. The eldest is a student at the University of Hawaii whose education Ortiz pays for, Reinhardt said. None of the children speak Spanish, which would make relocation to Mexico a hardship for the family, the judge said.

If the rest of his family remains in the U.S., “the children would not only lose a parent, but might also be deprived of their home, their opportunity for higher education and their financial support,” Reinhardt said.

“Subjecting vulnerable children to a choice between expulsion to a foreign land or losing the care and support of their father is not how this nation should treat its citizens,” he said.

The U.S. government has conceded that Ortiz has good moral character, Reinhardt wrote. The immigrant has two “apparent” convictions for driving under the influence — the most recent 14 years ago — but no other history of crime.

“All Magana Ortiz asked for in requesting a stay was to remain in this country, his home of almost three decades, while pursuing such routes to legal status,” Reinhardt wrote. “It was fully within the government’s power to once more grant his reasonable request.”

Instead, the judge wrote, “the government forces us to participate in ripping a family apart.”

Other members of the judiciary also have criticized Trump’s immigration policies. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican appointee, and two other state chief justices called on the administration this year to stop arresting immigrants at courthouses. They said such actions made immigrants afraid to come to court.

Reinhardt, for his part, used Ortiz’s case to cast a spotlight on the consequences of the administration’s policies. He said said the decision to deport Ortiz diminished the nation and its courts.

“We are unable to prevent Magana Ortiz’s removal, yet it is contrary to the values of this nation and its legal system,” Reinhardt wrote. “Magana Ortiz and his family are in truth not the only victims.”

To read the article in Spanish, click here.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan

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