Cindy Garcia has had a long, exhausting and life-changing week. By all appearances, the whirlwind is going to continue.
On Monday morning, she watched immigration agents escort Jorge Garcia, her husband of 15 years, through the security gates at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, deporting him to Mexico after nearly three decades living and raising a family in Michigan.
Video of Cindy Garcia and the couple’s two adolescent children sobbing as they said goodbye grabbed national headlines. Supporters held up the family’s experience as an example of the far-reaching effects of President Trump’s sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigration. Observers across the political spectrum took notice. “Surely this should not be happening,” tweeted Bill Kristol, editor of the right-leaning Weekly Standard.
By Thursday, Garcia and her children had flown New York for an interview on ABC’s “The View.” Flanked by Whoopi Goldberg and her co-hosts, they explained through tears that Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper, had been brought to the country as a boy by an undocumented relative and had fought unsuccessfully for years to gain legal status.
Now, Cindy Garcia is headed to Washington.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), whose district encompasses the Garcias’ home in the Detroit suburbs, invited Garcia to be her guest at Trump’s Jan. 30 State of the Union address. Garcia gladly accepted.
“She said she was saddened to see what was going on with my husband,” Garcia told The Washington Post. “When she called me and told me, I was overwhelmed.”
Dingell confirmed the invitation in a statement Thursday. The family’s story, she said, “is both a symptom of a long-broken immigration system and a new rash immigration policy that does not recognize the difference between a hard-working family man and a criminal.”
Garcia’s trip to the Capitol comes as debate in Congress over immigration has reached crisis levels. Republicans and Democrats had failed as of Friday morning to strike an agreement on whether to include in the government spending bill protections for “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children or who overstayed their visas as children. The impasse threatened to usher in a federal shutdown.
Jorge Garcia immigrated to the United States when he was 10. He and his wife met in Detroit and started working on ways to get him legal status in 2005. Cindy Garcia, a retired autoworker, said the first lawyer they hired botched the paperwork, sending him into deportation proceedings.
For 13 years, her husband checked in regularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, she said, never leaving their town without permission. He received multiple stays of removal during President Barack Obama’s presidency, but was too old to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the policy created by the Obama administration to protect children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
All the while, he paid his taxes and stayed out of trouble, his wife said. He appears to have no criminal record in the United States. His wife and children are all American citizens.
In November, after his last check-in, immigration agents ordered Jorge Garcia to leave the country that month. When Dingell intervened, they pushed back his deportation date to Jan. 15. A throng of supporters accompanied the family to the airport Monday, some carrying signs that read “Stop Separating Families.”
Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for ICE, told the Associated Press Tuesday that the Trump administration was justified in deporting him.
“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 in a statement.
Cindy Garcia said she’s eager for the opportunity to sit in the same room as the president and Congress for one of the most closely watched political events of the year. She may not get to talk with them, but hopefully they’ll recognize her face, she told The Washington Post.
“I hope that when they see me they can connect and feel what we’re dealing with,” she said, “that they have some type of compassion, if not for me than for the children who were separated from their dad.”
Garcia, her 15-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old son flew to New York this week, spent the night in the Empire State Building, then sat down for an interview with “The View” on Thursday morning.
In the segment, Garcia described how the deportation proceedings against her husband loomed over the family for years, then accelerated suddenly at the end of 2017.
“Thanksgiving was very sad. It was devastating because we knew that our nightmare was coming to life,” she told the hosts. “We knew eventually he may have to leave, but we never wanted to face that fact. Christmas was even worse.”
“We were grieving,” she added. “It was a death, and we knew the death was coming, but we couldn’t show how we felt because we wanted to be strong. . . . We didn’t want to let him go.”
Her husband appeared on the show via video feed from Mexico City, where he’s staying with his aunt. He was restrained in his responses. “I’m sad, but I’m good,” he told the hosts. He added that he wants the administration to know he’s not a criminal. By deporting him, he said, “they’re only basically hurting the economy and separating families just like mine.”
The couple’s son was also understated. Asked how he felt, he let out two words — “sad, angry” — before bowing his head and crying. The couple’s daughter encouraged kids in her and her brother’s situation to keep their parents close and reach out to friends when they need help.
Tears flowed again when the family said goodbye. “We love you, we miss you, we want to hug you,” Cindy Garcia said, her voice trembling. “Stay strong.”