Smuggled into US as a teen, respected Kona farmer now faces deportation to Mexico

Updated: May. 31, 2017 at 9:52 PM HST
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KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - After months of good rain, the owner of El Molinito Farm in Holualoa is expecting a bumper crop.

Problem is, Andres Magana might not be around to see it.

The Trump administration has ordered the 43-year-old to return to Mexico, even though he was working to obtain citizenship when he was told he had to go.

The order has rattled a family, shocked a community and stunned even those calling for stricter immigration policies.

In an impassioned opinion Tuesday, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt said while he had no authority to block the deportation order, he still was hard-pressed to see how it was consistent with the president's promise of an immigration system with heart.

"President Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the 'bad hombres,'" Reinhardt said, in an opinion that grabbed national headlines. "The government's decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the 'good hombres' are not safe."

Magana immigrated to Kona from Mexico in 1989 to take a job picking coffee. After a decade of hard work, he saved enough money to buy a farm of his own. Now, on top of his own operation, he's overseeing 15 more.

"You can see how full all of these branches are," said Magana. "This will probably be ready to harvest the first week of August."

That's only a few months away. But by that time, Magana might already be gone, forced to return to a place he left as a child.

"I never tried to hide it, always answered my phone when immigration called me and said come see us," he says. "I come in to each court on time. Everything, I tried to do all my best."

The farmer said he never knew his dad. He was smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border by human traffickers when he was 15 so that he could live with his mother after she found work in California.

Today, Magana has a wife and three children of his own, all of whom are U.S. citizens.

The thought of him being ripped from their lives has been devastating.

"My biggest fear is my family being separated," said 14-year-old Paola.

"I can't imagine having no dad with me," added 12-year-old Hector.

Magana is also their sole provider – if he leaves, his oldest daughter would have to drop out of college and get a job to help her mom with the bills.

"I'm a junior right now. As for my brother and my sister, I don't know who would take care of them," 20-year-old Victoria Magana Ledesma said. "Dad looks after them all the time, and his entire business would probably fall through because I don't have the experience to support it."

Over the years, Magana's reputation has made him one of the most sought-after coffee growers on the Big Island. He's known for his work to rid farms of the destructive borer beetle.

"He's been taking care of this farm, and he's got it down to about 2 percent or less bug problem," said Magana's business partner, Brian Lindau.

Lindau said he can understand the president's desire to deport illegal immigrants who are here causing trouble, but can't comprehend something like this.

"When you get a guy like Andres who's a model citizen, been in business for years, pays taxes and is one of the heavy hitters in the coffee industry here, you're shooting yourself in the foot and you're shooting down the Kona coffee business," he said.

Magana said besides a distant aunt, he has no one in Mexico. Everything that means anything to him is in Kona. "This is my home," said Magana.

Magana is hoping to be granted a little bit more time get everything set straight. In August, his daughter will turn 21 and she'll be able to apply for an immigrant visa that will allow her father to stay.

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