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Facing deportation, Hawaii coffee farmer, father of three returns to Mexico after 28 years

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A coffee farmer in Hawaii whose deportation fight turned him into a symbol in the debate over U.S. immigration policy has returned to Mexico after losing a legal battle to remain in the United States.

Andres Magana Ortiz said goodbye to his wife, an American citizen, and three U.S.-born children on Friday night, then boarded a flight bound for Mexico, the country he left as a teenager nearly three decades ago in the hands of human traffickers, Hawaii News Now reported.

The 43-year-old had been fighting deportation since 2011 when the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama began removal proceedings against him. After being granted multiple stays, his most recent request for legal status was rejected amid President Trump’s crackdown on immigration, and he was ordered to leave.

A well-known and respected figure in Hawaii’s coffee industry, Magana Ortiz had many defenders. A team of attorneys filed last-minute petitions to allow him to remain in the country. Hawaii’s congressional delegation wrote letters of support to top immigration officials and spoke on his behalf. A senior federal appeals court judge called him a “pillar of his community” and blasted the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement in an opinion that brought national attention to his case.

But the advocacy only went so far. On Friday, Magana Ortiz packed his bags and headed to Kona International Airport, departing voluntarily ahead of a deportation order, as local media reported.

The White House has said they are focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who "pose a threat to this country." (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

“Very, very sad and very disappointed in many ways, but there’s not much I can do,” he told Hawaii News Now from the airport. “Just follow what I have to do and hopefully, in a little bit, things can get better.”

His flight took him from Hawaii to San Francisco to Houston. From there, he flew to Morelia, a city of 785,000 in central Mexico close to the village he left when he was a teenager. He will stay with friends for the time being and try to get in touch with a distant aunt, his lone blood relative in the country, he told local media.

His oldest child, 20-year-old Victoria Magana Ledesma, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser on Saturday that the situation was “more surreal than anything else.”

“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,” Ledesma said. “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.”

Magana Ortiz came to the United States in 1989 when he was 15. Human traffickers smuggled him across the Arizona-Mexico border to join his mother, who had found work in California, according to a profile in Hawaii News Now. Eventually, and it’s not clear exactly how, he made his way to Hawaii.

There, Magana Ortiz’s life slowly took on a rags-to-riches quality. He started out picking coffee as a migrant worker in Kona, an area known for its coffee production. After a decade of manual labor, he saved enough money to buy his own farmland, according to Hawaii News Now.

Over the following years, he expanded his business and rose to prominence in Hawaii’s coffee industry. In 2010, he allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use his farm without charge to conduct a five-year study into a destructive insect species harming Hawaii’s coffee crops, court documents show. When he left over the weekend, he was leasing 20 acres of land and helping run 15 other small farms, according to the Star Advertiser.

His three children, which include a 12-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, are all U.S. citizens. In 2012, he met his second wife and married her in January 2016 at her home in Hawaii, according to court records.

Magana Ortiz was charged with being removable in 2011, but he was granted stays in 2014 and 2015, records show. Last November, he asked for another stay but was shot down without explanation, as The Washington Post has reported. The Department of Homeland Security in March ordered him to leave the country.

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

The order was met with a scathing opinion in May from Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Reinhardt wrote that the court had to deny Magana Ortiz’s request for a stay because “we do not have the authority to grant it” but called his deportation “contrary to the values of the country and its legal system.”

“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.”

“Even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe,” the judge added, criticizing Trump’s claim that his immigration policies would target “bad hombres.”

“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.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) made similar remarks shortly after, calling on immigration officials to let Magana Ortiz remain with his family.

“Andres’ ordeal speaks to the very real fear and anxiety spreading through immigrant communities across the country,” Hirono said last in a statement month.

Also in June, Hawaii’s full congressional delegation asked Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly to halt Magana Ortiz’s removal. “He is trying to do the right thing,” the four-member delegation wrote in a letter to Kelly. “Mr. Magana Ortiz is an upstanding member of our community and does not belong in the category of dangerous individuals who should be prioritized for deportation.”

Attorneys for Magana Ortiz wrote in court papers that if he were removed his children could lose their home, which he rents in a barter-based arrangement with the property owner that covers all household expenses. Ledesma, his oldest daughter, could be forced to withdraw from college at the University of Hawaii, they said, and his other children could lose some $1,800 in financial support.

Ledesma turns 21 in August, at which point she will be able to petition U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services for her father to become a lawful permanent resident. But he could be barred from entry for 10 years.

“So many people are fighting for my dad and that has helped. And I thank everyone for that,” she told the Star Advertiser. “But at the same time, it takes so much just for for one person who is a good citizen.”

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