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Federal immigration officials say the controversial deportation this week of a Lincoln Park man who came to the United States from Mexico nearly 30 years ago was justified since he’s considered “unlawfully present.”

Jorge Garcia, 39, had been undocumented since arriving in the U.S. at age 10 with his parents, relatives and advocates said. The landscaper had no criminal record and worked for years to gain citizenship but learned in November he would deported, one of the illegal immigrants targeted under the Trump administration. He was sent to Mexico on Monday.

Supporters and activists with advocacy groups such as Michigan United have decried the decision as unfair. But in a statement issued late Tuesday night, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement argued that the father of two should have left earlier.

A judge ordered him removed in June 2006, ICE said, but Garcia appealed his removal in 2008 to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The board sent the decision back to the lower court, “which subsequently allowed him to voluntarily depart,” spokesman Khaalid Walls said.

“After he failed to depart within the timeline of the agreement, he became subject to a final order of removal in 2009,” his statement said. “ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion on multiple prior occasions in (Garcia’s) case in 2011, 2012 and 2014.”

Garcia never was detained during that time, Walls added.

“As ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has made clear, ICE does not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” he said. “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.”

Garcia was 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 as well as granted them a two-year deferment from deportation.

His wife, Cindy, was told he would not be allowed to return home for a decade.

“We’re going to pray and get him back fast, faster than this paperwork that gave him a 10-year bar,” she said Monday.

Meanwhile, a MoveOn.org petition has been created seeking 75,000 signatures calling on authorities to release Garcia and lawmakers to pass legislation that protects him and other immigrants. Nearly 60,000 signatures had been collected as of Wednesday night, according to the website.

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