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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

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Throughout the holidays, Jorge Garcia’s family braced for the heartbreak the new year would bring.

The Lincoln Park resident had left Mexico for the United States with his family nearly 30 years ago at age 10 and long sought legal status, relatives and activists say. He annually met with immigration officials and had no criminal record, but the increased targeting of undocumented people under the Trump administration meant deportation loomed large.

That became a reality last year, when Garcia learned he had been scheduled to be deported in November. That deadline was extended to Monday, allowing him more time at home.

“We did not want to put up a Christmas tree because it was way too sad to even get to that point,” said his wife of 15 years, Cindy Garcia. “It was rough because we knew he was going to leave eventually. All we could do is make memories.”

The landscaper’s struggle to stay in the United States ended early Monday, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His wife and teen children saw him off at Detroit Metro Airport, weeping and clinging to him before the 39-year-old boarded a plane bound for Mexico City.

“It’s just a nightmare,” said Cindy Garcia. “You can’t even put it into words how it feels.”

Garcia’s exit drew many supporters and volunteers with the advocacy group Michigan United, some toting signs that read “Stop separating families.”

For them, the deportation was a cruel blow.

“I don’t see the justice in this,” AJ Freer of UAW 600 said. “For a man who cares deeply and supports his family, obeys the law, pays taxes and has a history of helping others, I think ICE and the federal government of the United States acted cruelly to this family.”

Khaalid Walls, northeast regional communications director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said since Monday was a holiday, he would have no comment until Tuesday.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a longer wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Soon after he took office in 2017, the government announced it would target people charged with or even suspected of crimes — a change from the Obama administration’s policy, which focused on those convicted of serious offenses.

ICE said “interior removals,” people deported after being arrested away from the border, jumped 25 percent to 81,603 from 65,332 in the 2016 fiscal year. They rose 37 percent since Trump’s inauguration compared to the same period a year earlier.

In 2016, authorities warned Garcia that his “time was up” and to prepare for deportation, his wife said. He is too old to seek protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allowed unauthorized children who came to the country with their parents to work and go to college, and granted them a two-year deferment from deportation.

“Rather than wait to see what reforms are made, immigration officials came into work on a national holiday to take Jorge away from his family,” Michigan United officials said in a statement.

Garcia’s wife was told he would not be allowed to return home for a decade. But on Monday, she vowed to keep fighting. “We’re going to pray and get him back fast, faster than this paperwork that gave him a 10-year bar,” the mother of two said.

The gravity of his departure has left many in Metro Detroit “heartbroken,” said Mayra Valle, a family friend at the airport. “No words to explain the pain. ... Jorge was a child. He didn’t choose to go back. He never knew what was going to happen.”

The scene could become more common, some said. “We see it as a sign of more to come,” said Raquel Garcia, a volunteer with Michigan United.

The Associated Press contributed.

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