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Even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe: Federal judge blasts Trump’s deportation policies

Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt listens to arguments during a hearing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 2010. (Eric Risberg/AP)

In the months since President Trump has taken office, he has been embroiled in an ongoing battle with the courts, launching personal attacks at the judiciary. And judges have fired back, criticizing both the president and his executive orders — frequently, his immigration orders.

But few remarks have been quite as scathing as those written Monday by a federal judge who made no effort to disguise his personal contempt for Trump’s deportation policies even as he conceded that in the case before him he was powerless to intervene.

Stephen Reinhardt, once referred to as “the reigning liberal lion” of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, wrote that a Trump administration order to deport a Mexican man was “inhumane” and “contrary to the values of the country and its legal system.”

Reinhardt’s comments came in an opinion concurring in the denial of a request for a stay of removal of Andres Magana Ortiz, 43, a businessman in Hawaii who has lived in the United States for nearly three decades.

“We are compelled to deny Mr. Magana Ortiz’s request,” he wrote, adding “because we do not have the authority to grant it. We are not, however, compelled to find the government’s action in this case fair or just.”

“Indeed, the government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz diminishes not only our country but our courts, which are supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of justice,” Reinhardt wrote. “Magana Ortiz and his family are in truth not the only victims. Among the others are judges who, forced to participate in such inhumane acts, suffer a loss of dignity and humanity as well.”

Magana Ortiz entered the United States 28 years ago, and has fathered three children born in the United States, the oldest of whom is 20 years old and attends the University of Hawaii, according to court documents. His wife is a U.S. citizen. He is well established in Hawaii’s coffee farming industry and worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in researching pests afflicting the island’s coffee crops, allowing the government to use his farm without charge to conduct a five-year study, according to Reinhardt’s opinion. He is by all “by all accounts a pillar of his community,” Reinhardt wrote.

Reinhardt said Trump has claimed his immigration policies would target the “bad hombres” but the decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows “that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.”

“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,’ ” Reinhardt wrote. “I find no such compassion in the government’s choice to deport Magana Ortiz.”

The Department of Homeland Security began proceedings to remove Magana Ortiz when it filed a notice for him to appear in 2011 with the Immigration Court in Honolulu. In 2014, a judge granted him a stay of removal, allowing him to remain in the country for the time being. But in November of last year, when Magana Ortiz filed for an additional stay of removal, the government reversed its position and ordered him to report for removal the next month, “without any explanation,” Reinhardt wrote.

Magana Ortiz’s subsequent appeals and applications were denied. On May 17, he appealed to the 9th Circuit in one last attempt to block the deportation.

Now Magana Ortiz will be removed to Mexico and will be subject to a 10-year bar against his return to the United States, “likely forcing him to spend a decade deprived of his wife, children, and community,” Reinhardt said.

“In doing so, the government forces us to participate in ripping apart a family,” Reinhardt said. “Three United States citizen children will now have to choose between their father and their country.”

Magana Ortiz has been convicted twice of driving under the influence, one of which occurred 14 years ago, according to the judge’s opinion. But he has no other criminal history, and was at most fined for both convictions, Reinhardt said, adding that his driving record was not the basis of his removal.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman told the Associated Press the agency declined to comment on the case. A lawyer for Magana Ortiz did not immediately respond to requests for contact.

Magana Ortiz’s family had actively been pursuing routes to legal status, Reinhardt said. In August, his oldest daughter will turn 21, enabling her to also file an application for her father. He is paying for her college education, Reinhardt said.

Magana Ortiz’s petition to the court argued that his three children “will suffer immediate and irreparable financial and emotional hardship and instability” if he is removed. It also said that the coffee farmers who hire Magana Ortiz to maintain their farms “will also suffer great hardship” as a result of his deportation. Magana Ortiz contended that he “is not a threat to the community” and has always reported to DHS when requested.

Reinhardt’s opinion was not entirely surprising, considering unapologetic stances previously taken by the judge, who sits on a court often criticized by conservatives, and most ardently by Trump, for its high-profile rulings in favor of liberal causes over the years, as The Washington Post reported. In February the California-based court upheld a ruling against his controversial travel ban.

Trump takes up GOP tradition of bashing 9th Circuit, a.k.a. ‘9th Circus’

Trump has previously said the circuit was “in chaos” and “frankly in turmoil.” Its “terrible decisions,” he also said, had been overturned “at a record number.”

Reinhardt indeed hails from an era in which the circuit was overwhelmingly liberal. In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter worked with a Democratic Congress to add seats on the court, and filled them with liberal jurists, including Reinhardt.

Law360 wrote there is “perhaps no sitting jurist more politically divisive than Judge Stephen Reinhardt.” He has found himself at the center of some of the 9th Circuit’s most controversial decisions, on issues such as doctor-assisted suicide and the right to bear arms.

In 2012, he penned the circuit’s 2-1 decision declaring California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, blasting the law as one that aims to “lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”

Since Trump took office, his immigration and travel policies have been repeatedly lambasted and blocked by the judiciary, particularly the 9th Circuit. In February, the 9th Circuit refused to reinstate Trump’s executive order barring travelers from six majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.

President Trump responded to the court’s ruling on Twitter: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch says Trump’s attacks on judiciary are ‘demoralizing’

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Maryland found that the revised travel ban affecting people from six Muslim-majority countries “in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” A federal judge in San Francisco dealt the Trump administration another legal blow by blocking its attempt to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Other judges have also spoken out against the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican appointee, and two other state chief justices called on the administration to stop arresting immigrants at courthouses.

Cantil-Sakauye used her annual State of the Judiciary address to argue that the rule of law was being “challenged” amid Trump’s immigration enforcement and told her state’s lawmakers that “the rule of law means that we as a people are governed by laws and rules, and not by a monarch.”

“We are living in a time of civil rights unrest, eroding public trust in our institutions, economic anxiety, and unprecedented polarization,” she said. “Our values, our rules and our laws are being called into question, and all three branches of government and the free press are in the crosshairs.”

The case is Andres Magana Ortiz v. Jefferson B. Sessions III.

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