If anyone other than Donald Trump had been elected president last November, there wouldn’t be a question over whether Francisco Javier Gonzalez would still be the beloved manager of a Palm Beach restaurant next week.
On Friday, the Mexican-born husband of an American citizen and father of their three American-citizen daughters, ranging from 5 to 10 years old, would make his annual check in at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, where he has received an annual Administrative Stay of Deportation or Removal.
And that would be that. The 36-year-old Gonzalez would check in, then go back to Pizza Al Fresco, where his hard work elevated him from a waiter to a manager over the past nine years.
But Trump’s election changed everything. Living a productive, tax-paying, crime-free life in Palm Beach County for two decades doesn’t matter anymore.
What suddenly matters is that after Gonzalez came here on a visa when he was 15 years old, he didn’t just stay here. If he would have stayed in the U.S., he may have been an American citizen by now, through marriage.
But he briefly went back to Mexico to visit his parents, and when he returned to the states, he was detained at the airport, told his visa wasn’t valid, and deported.
That deportation meant that he was required to wait five years before he could legally enter the U.S. again. Gonzalez didn’t wait. He sneaked in.
And even though that was about 16 years ago, it’s suddenly relevant in the new political environment caused by an unconventional president who staked so much of his candidacy on getting tough on illegal immigration.
The days of exemptions are over, ICE explained in commenting on Gonzalez’ case.
“As Secretary (John) Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the agency emailed. “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.”
It’s not surprising, considering that Trump kicked off his candidacy by singling out illegal Mexican immigrants in a way that colored them as a bad lot worthy of concern.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Gonzalez, who has been described by his boss as “the most reliable human being we’ve ever had work for us,” must be one of those good Mexicans that didn’t seem to play much of a role in Trump’s campaign speeches.
But he was telling some voters what they wanted to hear, considering that 59 percent of Trump supporters associate unauthorized immigrants with serious criminal behavior, a Pew Research Center study found.
So in the big scheme of things, the lives of Gonzalez and his American family are merely collateral damage of a successful political strategy.
There will be many Americans who would applaud Gonzalez’ deportation as some long overdue shift in our immigration policy, and not allow themselves to consider the human dimension of what is happening, or the folly of it on a purely economic level.
But for them, Gonzalez’ deportation ought to be a pretty hollow victory.
Boiled down, it’s just breaking up a laudable American family in Florida to assuage the anger of a Rust Belt swing-state voter, whose real issue is the job he or she lost to a heartless American company that maximized its profits by moving its factory to Mexico.
Compassion and common sense used to be held in higher regard than misplaced anger.
They still are in some places. An online petition at Change.org was started last week to ask the president and his immigration agency to allow Gonzalez to stay. So far, about 5,000 people have signed it — including John Sculley, the former head of Apple. Many of the petition signers also took the time to write comments about Gonzalez.
“I am signing because he has been part of the Palm Beach restaurant community for so many years and as a Palm Beach patron I have seen him grow throughout the years,” wrote one of them, Sarah Bate, from West Palm Beach. “He always remembers everyone’s name, seasonal and locals alike and he is loved by everyone in Palm Beach. He has worked hard to get where he is today and he should be respected for that.”
Or this from Randall Morgan, of Miami:
“I’m signing this petition because my family and I personally know and respect Javier. Both of my daughters work at the restaurant and think the world of this man.
“There must be a pathway for the head of a household, married to an American citizen, with American children, to become legal. Javier is the type of person we want in this country.”