The one thing Andrés Magaña Ortiz needed was a little more time. And at the eleventh hour, a little more time is what he got.
Magaña Ortiz, a respected owner of a coffee farm and a businessman in Kona, Hawaii, was scheduled to report to immigration authorities in the state’s capital at 9 a.m. local time Thursday so he could be deported from the United States.
At the last minute, the Department of Homeland Security granted Magaña Ortiz a 30-day delay from deportation, according to a statement from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who had spoken to DHS Secretary John Kelly about the farmer’s case.
“Today’s announcement is a positive step, but our work to keep Mr. Magaña Ortiz with his family isn’t done yet,” Hirono said Thursday.
The federal government earlier appeared as if it wouldn’t give the father of three more time. As of late Wednesday, his lawyer James Stanton said, he was still waiting for word from someone in the Trump administration to put a halt to his imminent removal from the U.S. back to Mexico, where he hasn’t stepped foot in 28 years.
For all they knew, that word could’ve come the moment Magaña Ortiz showed up at the federal office building in downtown Honolulu.
“We’re still optimistic and waiting that something good will happen and that they’ll give me more time to get my situation in order,” Magaña Ortiz, owner of El Molinito Farm in Holualoa, said in an interview conducted in his native Spanish earlier this week. He was brought into the U.S. at 15 to work as a fruit picker in California.
Magaña Ortiz appears to have everything he needs to make a compelling case that he belongs here: The ringing endorsement of a federal judge. The support of Hawaii’s entire congressional delegation. The backing of family members, fellow coffee farmers, and an industry that would falter if he’s made to leave.
If Magaña Ortiz, 43, is forced to depart, he’d leave behind his wife and three children, all of whom are American and dependent on him. He’d leave behind his life’s work ― the 20-acre coffee farm he owns and nearly 150 acres of land he manages for other farm owners who are either too elderly, inexperienced or just unable to handle the work on their own.
“He’s indispensable for my little corner of the world,” said Elisabeth Siekhaus, 75. She’s retired, has a disability and relies on Magaña Ortiz to tend to her 10 acres of land in Hawaii’s Kona district, renowned for its namesake coffee ― one of the world’s most expensive and distinctive, according to the Kona Coffee Farmers Association.
“If he has to go,” Siekhaus said, “I’m kind of at the end of my rope.”
Kona coffee isn’t easy to grow, in large part due to the coffee berry borer — a pest that hit the local coffee industry hard in 2010, leading to massive losses for growers and manufacturers. Over the years, University of Hawaii researchers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and locals have looked to Magaña Ortiz to help keep the killer beetle under control.
Magaña Ortiz’s efforts have helped keep the “bug problem” at their farms in Kona down to 2 percent, Brian Lindau, his business partner, told Hawaii News Now, a local news outlet.
“When you get a guy like Andrés who’s a model citizen, been in business for years, pays taxes and is one of the heavy hitters in the coffee industry here,” Lindau said, “you’re shooting yourself in the foot and you’re shooting down the Kona coffee business” by deporting him.
Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who in April got in hot water over calling Hawaii “an island in the Pacific,” got a feel for Magaña Ortiz’s contributions to the state when the president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, Suzanne Shriner, sent him a letter urging him to intervene and grant a stay of his deportation.
“I work closely with farmers in the control of an invasive pest that has decimated our yields,” Shriner said in her June 1 letter. “Mr. Ortiz has been a large part of this response. He has served as a bilingual bridge in the community, teaching our labor force how to properly manage the pest. He has also advanced our control methods by assisting USDA-funded scientists in their research.”
The outpouring of support for Magaña Ortiz began in earnest last week, when an appeals judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which reviews cases from Hawaii — including an ongoing challenge to Trump’s travel ban — issued a forceful opinion calling attention to the “inhumane” circumstances in the case. The judge was unafraid to call out Trump by name.
“President Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the ‘bad hombres,’” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt, also the court’s longest-serving, full-time judge. “The government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the good hombres are not safe.
“Magana Ortiz is by all accounts a pillar of his community and a devoted father and husband,” he continued. “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. I find no such compassion in the government’s choice to deport Magana Ortiz.”
In his written opinion, Reinhardt conceded he had no legal authority to prevent Magaña Ortiz’s deportation. But the Trump administration does, and Hawaii lawmakers — quoting from the judge’s “pillar” language — addressed a letter to John Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, requesting that the government issue an “administrative stay” that would permit him to remain in the U.S. beyond Thursday.
“The Department has the power to keep this family together, or to break them apart,” read the letter sent earlier this week by Hirono and Sen. Brian Schatz and Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard, all of them Democrats.
The delegation is pulling out all the stops for Magaña Ortiz. On Tuesday, Gabbard introduced a rare private bill in Congress that would grant him, and only him, a path to citizenship. Only 94 such bills, all immigration-related, were passed by Congress between 1986 and 2013, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
“If Andrés is forced to leave, the law would keep him from his family for 10 years,” Gabbard said in a House floor speech Wednesday, referring to the decade-long bar on re-entry Magaña Ortiz would face if he is deported and has to wait for relief outside of the country.
As recounted by legislators in their letter and Reinhardt in his court opinion, all Magaña Ortiz needs is a little reprieve from the federal government, which is currently processing his wife’s petition so that he may be deemed her relative and be granted a green card. His daughter, Victoria, could likewise petition for him in a few months when she turns 21.
Back in 2014, Magaña Ortiz caught a break when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted him his first stay of deportation. But his latest request for an extension went unheeded. In March, the government finally told him he wouldn’t receive it and ordered him to report for removal.
There was nothing the courts could do under the law, leading Reinhardt to express alarm about Magaña Ortiz’s predicament.
“The government forces us to participate in ripping apart a family,” the judge wrote last week, and noted that his deportation would leave his three children — the other two are ages 14 and 12 — without a father to support them.
Their welfare and that of the farmowners who rely on his work weigh heavily on Magaña Ortiz. Harvest season is coming ― he’s expecting for his team to pick up to 700,000 pounds of coffee berries ― and he can’t imagine how everyone will manage without him around.
“A lot of things are happening at the moment,” he said when asked if he had much time to focus on picking season as his deportation day approached. “But it’s all about doing the best you can because the work won’t wait.”
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from Sen. Mazie Hirono and to reflect that Andrés Magaña Ortiz was granted temporary deportation relief.