The Lincoln Park man had left Mexico for the United States with his family nearly 30 years ago at age 10 and long sought legal status. Courtesy of AJ Freer
Pin an orange ribbon to your shirt or coat and it’s possible you’ll get a big hug from Cindy Garcia of Lincoln Park.
Just weeks after her husband, Jorge, was deported to Mexico after living in the United States without issue for 30 years, Garcia has made the orange ribbon a symbol of her family’s struggle and the struggle of all undocumented workers. She calls them “people living in the shadows.”
“We can show the world this is happening. And if I see you at the grocery store or the post office, I can give you a hug. I can say ‘thank you,’ ” said Garcia, who wants to start a viral campaign with the orange ribbons and T-shirts that read #TeamGarcia. “We need more love in the world than we do hate.”
Garcia has been thrust into the spotlight since her husband was deported Jan. 15, the face of what happens to a family affected by deportation and the ongoing debate over immigration reform. She appeared on ABC’s “The View,” attended Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address and was a featured speaker at the Women’s March in Lansing earlier this month.
On Tuesday, when she attends President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address as the guest of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Garcia will be wearing her orange ribbon.
“We just hope that the president can see my face and see that he tore apart a family,” said Garcia, 45, who has two children with Jorge — 15-year-old daughter Soleil, and 12-year-old son Jorge Jr. “We understand that (Trump) said that he was deporting criminals, rapists and drug dealers. But my husband was not one of those ... . We were doing everything right. We followed the law, and this is what happened.”
But as depressed as she and her kids are about saying goodbye to Jorge, 39, Garcia is embracing her new role.
She says her family’s tragedy is also a blessing in that she’s been able to speak on the behalf of other “Dreamers” — the children of illegal immigrants who had protection under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law — and families like hers. Brought to the United States at 10, Jorge was one year too old to qualify for DACA.
“They can see the reality of (deportation). If they see a face, maybe they can understand,” said Garcia, who also has a 23-year-old son and a 3-year-old granddaughter.
That’s important, said state Rep. Stephanie Chang, who has known Garcia for more than five years. Chang actually made the orange ribbons that she, Garcia and others wore at Snyder’s State of the State last week to highlight the need for immigration reform. She said she chose the orange color because it tends to be the color of those defending Dreamers, of which there are approximately 6,400 in Michigan.
“To actually see a family as the dad is being forced to leave even after years of trying to do the right thing, it’s really struck a chord in a lot of people,” said Chang, D-Detroit. “Her strength is hopefully giving other people strength.”
Garcia, Dingell said, has “shown incredible resilience and courage.”
“It is both a symptom of a long-broken immigration system and a new rash immigration policy that does not recognize the difference between a hardworking family man and a criminal,” said Dingell in a statement. “This must change.”
Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the Detroit office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Jorge was subject to final order of removal in 2009. The agency exercised “prosecutorial discretion” on at least three occasions before he was finally deported.
“As ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” said Walls in an email. “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.”
‘He did everything right’
Living without her husband of 15 years hasn’t been easy, Garcia said.
Garcia, who took a medical retirement from Ford Motor Co. four years ago, manages to get only five hours of sleep at night. Even the family’s pit bull, Chito, senses that something isn’t right.
“When we sit down for dinner, there’s three, not four,” said Garcia, also a former UAW organizer.
Her kids took a week off from school after Jorge left because they were devastated. Her son is reserved and was in a state of shock for a while.
“My daughter and me will at least hug each other and cry,” Garcia said. “It’s very, very hard on them.”
Meanwhile Jorge, who worked as a landscaper in Michigan, is sad and depressed, Garcia said. He’s living with an aunt he doesn’t know very well in Mexico City. He’s pursuing a pardon from the Mexican consulate that would allow him to come back to the United States, but it will require expensive medical tests and other steps, Garcia said.
“I have my kids to hold on to,” Garcia said. “He has nothing down there.”
Despite the critics who say Jorge should’ve been deported since he didn’t have legal citizenship, Garcia insisted they’d been trying to do the right thing since 2005. They hired a lawyer — who she declined to name — and went before an immigration judge in 2009, who ruled against Jorge. They appealed and were denied.
The couple applied for a stay of deportation in 2010 to keep Jorge in the United States, Garcia said. It was approved, paving the way for several years of stability.
“Because he was low priority and he did everything right, never got in trouble with the law, we were just doing yearly visits (with immigration officials) from 2011 all the way until 2017,” Garcia said. “We were trying to find a way to adjust his status because he fell one year short of DACA.”
That changed when Trump took office.
“Had we known what we do now, we wouldn’t have even put ourselves on the radar,” Garcia said. “... Once you try to adjust paperwork is when immigration knows about you.”
Seeking ‘American Dream’
Garcia has always been a take charge kind of person. When she met Jorge at her best friend’s house in 2001, she was the one who introduced herself to him.
“I went up to him and said ‘Excuse me. Who are you? What are you doing here?’ ” remembered Garcia, who found out Jorge was her friend’s brother. “We just started dancing.”
They started dating, but it wasn’t until later that Garcia found out Jorge was in the country illegally. Garcia wasn’t fazed. Her father was an immigrant and eventually became a U.S. citizen when she was 21 because she pushed him to do it.
“I said it shouldn’t be a problem,” Garcia said.
But it was a problem for Jorge. According to local ICE officials, the department exercised “prosecutorial discretion,” meaning the agency delayed his removal many times; in Jorge’s case in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and he was never detained, said Walls with ICE. That changed in late 2016.
As critical as some may be, Jorge was brought to the U.S. because his “parents wanted a better life for him,” Garcia said.
“That’s why they brought him here at 10 years old,” she said. “They wanted the American Dream just like any other family. We’re all immigrants. We all came from somewhere.”
Sometimes she wishes she could be a mediator for lawmakers as they battle over immigration reform and the future of other Dreamers.
“Unless they compromise, it’s still going to be in limbo,” Garcia said. “And that’s the worst part; they have these poor children in limbo. It’s hard for them. They think, ‘Today we’re safe. But what about tomorrow?’ ”