Palm Beach restaurant manager gets ankle monitor in ICE meeting

One day after being assured he wouldn’t be taken into custody, Francisco Javier Gonzalez, the beloved Palm Beach restaurant manager facing deportation, was given an ankle monitor by immigration officials and ordered to report back in two weeks with a one-way plane ticket to Mexico, according to his lawyer, Richard Hujber.

Hujber and Gonzalez reported Tuesday to the U.S. Customs and Immigration office in Miramar for a hearing that was originally scheduled for Aug. 30 but was moved up by ICE officials. There, officials told Gonzalez that in two weeks he will have to provide proof of a plane ticket back to Mexico, his home country, and leave the United States by July 3.

As Gonzalez left the immigration office, Vanina Schreiber, Gonzalez’s longtime friend and co-worker, waited outside and smiled. She thought Tuesday’s meeting was just another routine hearing. And then she saw the black ankle bracelet on Gonzalez’s left leg.

“It’s just devastating,” Schreiber said. “We need a miracle.”

Sitting next to Gonzalez in his Boynton Beach law offices Tuesday afternoon, Hujber said he plans to fight the decision. He said he will help take Gonzalez’s case to federal court and do anything to delay Gonzalez’s departure.

At one point during Tuesday’s immigration meeting, Hujber said, officials took Gonzalez into a back room away from his lawyer. Hujber said he thought Gonzalez was gone.

“I was worried to death,” Hujber said. “I thought for sure he was going to be taken into custody.” 

Gonzalez, 36, does not have a criminal history. He wears collared shirts tucked into neatly pressed pants. He is a manager at Pizza Al Fresco, a Palm Beach pizza restaurant, where the baby roasted artichoke appetizer goes for $15 and the brick-oven pizzas come with truffle oil.

He is the sole provider for his U.S.-born wife and three young daughters, ages 11, 8 and 6. The two younger children do not know their father might be deported.

“It’s just horrific,” Schreiber said.

Since coming to the United States as a teenager, Gonzalez has faced issues with his immigration status. He was issued an expedited order of removal about 20 years ago after entering the United States with what he thought was a valid visa, Hujber said. At the time, Gonzalez did not speak English well and did not understand the order, Hujber said. Gonzalez was deported and issued a five-year ban, but he re-entered the country before the five years were up.

In an email, ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias said ICE does not “exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

“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,” Yglesias said.

Gonzalez has received letters and words of support from many Palm Beach and South Florida residents, and an online petition to keep him from being deported has more than 100,000 signatures. But that may not make a difference.

“You wonder, does this even help or is it just a show?” Hujber said. “We don’t want special treatment just because he has huge support in the community. We just want to finally be heard.”

Richard Nernberg, a Palm Beach resident who said he eats at and sees Gonzalez at Pizza Al Fresco once or twice a week, said Gonzalez is “one of the most hardworking, capable, charming people anybody could ever want to meet.”

“I feel like crying. It’s terrible,” Nernberg said. “It’s like a knife in the ribs.”

In April, sitting outside Pizza Al Fresco, owner Arlene Desiderio fought through watery eyes as she thought about what might happen if Gonzalez is deported.

“My whole worry about the whole case is the kids. The three girls. What’s going to happen to them?” she said. “I’m begging whoever is in charge to pardon him and consider those girls.”

Before he turned to leave Hujber’s office on Tuesday, Gonzalez stopped. He reached down to his left ankle and rolled his jeans’ cuff over the black bracelet.

“What can I do?” he said, smiling. “Pray for a miracle.”

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