A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an important immigration opinion last month, blasting the administration’s immigration policy and the unfettered discretion it is exercising in deportation decisions. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, in a concurrence, concluded that instead of focusing on the “bad hombres,” the administration’s immigration policies allow immigration officers to target anyone, regardless of the person’s conduct in the United States.
The Judge’s criticisms came after reviewing the case of Andres Magana Ortiz, a 43-year-old businessman, husband, and father to three U.S. citizen children (ages 12, 14, and 20), who is facing imminent deportation. Magana Ortiz has been ordered removed by the Department of Homeland Security and he appealed his deportation to the ninth circuit.
Judge Reinhardt ultimately, and reluctantly, agreed with the decision to deny Magana Ortiz’s stay of deportation, acknowledging that the court did not have the legal authority to grant the request. Nevertheless, he explained, the court did not need to “find the government’s action in this case fair or just.”
Magana Ortiz entered the United States at the age of 15 and has since built a house, started his own company in the coffee farming industry, and paid his taxes. He’s made scientific contributions through his work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in researching pests afflicting Hawaii’s coffee crop. He allowed USDA to use his farm, without charge, to conduct a five-year study. Magana Ortiz supports his entire family, including paying for the oldest daughter’s college education at the University of Hawaii.
In 2014, DHS permitted Magana Ortiz to remain in the country, in order to stay with his family and pursue available routes to legal status. His wife had since submitted an immigrant petition, still processing; in August his eldest daughter will turn 21 and be able to file her own petition for her father’s residency.
But in March 2017, when Magana Ortiz filed another request to stay in the country, the government inexplicably reversed its position and ordered him to report for removal the next month. He will be subject to a ten-year bar against his return to the United States, likely “forcing him to spend a decade deprived of his wife, children, and community.”
During his previous immigration proceedings, the government conceded that there was no question about Magana Ortiz’s good moral character.
Judge Reinhardt’s opinion emphasized the breadth of the Trump administration’s immigration executive orders, which gave greater authority to individual agents and officers to remove non-citizens. These orders effectively dismantled the previous system of priorities that guided Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol in determining whom to deport.
While President Trump claimed that “his immigration policies would target the ‘bad hombres,’” Reinhardt writes, “the government’s decisions to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.”
Not only is the decision to remove Magana Ortiz inconsistent with the president’s promise of an immigration system with “a lot of heart,” it is also inconsistent with the values of this nation and its legal system.
Photo by Joe Gratz.