Francisco Javier Gonzalez manages an upscale pizzeria in Palm Beach, just two miles down the road from Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private Florida club. The Trumps have long been a presence in the community, and back when he was working his way up through the industry, Gonzalez, then in his early 20s, waited on the future president.
“I didn’t know much about him at the time,” he said of that day back in 2004. “I just knew that he was a multimillionaire. We didn’t know that he was ever going to run for president. I didn’t really pay much attention because over there you get a lot of customers at the same level.”
Over the years, Gonzalez has crossed paths with some of Palm Beach’s most influential figures, including news personalities and entrepreneurs. Trump’s nephew, David Desmond, referred to Gonzalez as an “old friend” in a 2011 column for the Palm Beach Daily News.
When Trump announced his candidacy, Gonzalez hoped he would win.
“I knew that 90 percent of my customers wanted him to be the president, and I had a feeling that it was good for us, for the economy, and I thought that people would be happy and spend more money,” he said. After the election, with local officials complaining that Trump’s frequent visits to his “Winter White House” were bankrupting the town, Gonzalez stuck up for his old customer in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times.
But there is no deportation exception in current immigration policy for Trump supporters, so Gonzalez remains a potential target for removal. By the time he waited on Trump, he had already been in the country without proper papers for seven years, having arrived when was a 15-year-old boy.
Gonzalez, a father to three U.S.-born daughters, came to the United States in 1997 to live with his brother. He entered using a tourist visa, attended school, and worked in a restaurant. A few years later, he traveled to Mexico to visit his parents. He didn’t understand immigration policy at the time — very few teenagers do — but if he had, he would have never left. He tried to re-enter the U.S. using the same visa, but border agents told him it wasn’t valid and sent him back. After four years in Palm Beach, Gonzalez couldn’t imagine returning to life on his family’s farm, so he crossed the southern border illegally.
“When you cross the border illegally, you don’t think of any of it — you’re just looking for a better life, you want to be at a better place,” he told The Intercept. “You don’t think you’re committing a crime.”
Gonzalez was due to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement under a supervised release program earlier this month, and he feared he might be detained as a result of changed enforcement policies. ICE granted him a three-month reprieve, though, giving Gonzalez relative peace of mind.
Two miles from the restaurant, down roads lined with mansions concealed by towering hedges, is Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Despite the president’s “America First” agenda, his businesses are seeking to hire 70 temporary foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in nearby Jupiter, Florida, according to a recent Buzzfeed News report.
The businesses’ requests under the H-2B visa program claim — or perhaps admit — that there are no American workers to do the job. When asked if, given the opportunity, he would work at a Trump-owned business, Gonzalez said yes without hesitation. “Absolutely,” he told me. “I mean, I think he’s a great guy.”
Not everyone in South Florida — home to an estimated 450,000 of America’s 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally, according to the Pew Research Center — has such an optimistic outlook about Trump.
For the last four years, Matias Muy Carrillo, 42, and her husband, Victor Chavez, 39, have run a tire shop in Jupiter, four miles from Trump’s golf club. Both unauthorized immigrants from Guatemala with final orders of removal, they felt the change in immigration enforcement firsthand in March, when ICE officers detained Chavez and affixed a GPS monitor to Carrillo’s ankle.
At her family’s Tikal Tires shop, Carrillo said she wouldn’t think of working at Trump’s golf club. “I would never accept money from him when he is causing my people to be poor and to work for low wages and is deporting them,” she said.
When Carrillo, who received a final order of deportation in 2006, showed up at an ICE office in Miramar, Florida, in March, she was hoping the agency would renew the stay of deportation first issued to her in 2014. Instead, the officers told her to return the next day with her husband and their U.S.-born son, Jimmy Chavez, 13. Like many immigrants in her situation, she decided to do the right thing and show up, hoping that her continued cooperation with authorities would be met with mercy. It wasn’t.
Agents separated Carrillo and Chavez, while Jimmy was told to wait outside. Even though Chavez’s work permit and stay of deportation were renewed in December 2016 and were good for two years, the immigration agents told him they was no longer valid “because the law has changed,” Carrillo said. (An ICE spokesperson said he had no way to confirm the account.)
Chavez was arrested and taken to Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit detention center in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he has been detained since.
The policy that allowed the couple to stay and work in the United States was completely discretionary, and their luck turned as a result of changed immigration enforcement policies that “virtually eliminated the practice of using discretion to close cases,” according to a Migration Policy Institute report on the first six months of Trump’s immigration policies.
While the Obama administration carried out a substantial number of deportations in the former president’s first few years in office, it narrowed the focus of its enforcement efforts in 2014, setting out priorities that included individuals who threatened national security and public safety, people with felonies or significant misdemeanors, recent arrivals, and those who had final orders of removal issued after December 2013. The Trump administration’s policy also identifies priority categories for deportation, but it has cast a wide net that includes those charged with a criminal offense but not yet convicted, those who have committed acts that constitute a crime but have not been charged, and anyone subject to a final order of removal.
Gonzalez, the restaurant manager in Palm Beach, was ordered deported in 2002, according to ICE. He has been trying to get legal status since marrying his American wife in 2006. DHS granted Gonzalez supervised release a few years ago, which meant he had to check in with ICE officials every year, he said.
He was due to check in with ICE officers in early July. His attorney, Richard Hujber, feared that changes to immigration enforcement put Gonzalez at risk of deportation, so the lawyer created an online petition calling on DHS to exercise prosecutorial discretion to postpone Gonzalez’s deportation.
This month, after Hujber took the case public in the local community, the immigration agency gave Gonzalez a three-month extension to complete the adjudication of certain waivers necessary for his attempt to obtain legal status, the immigrant said.
“Honestly, I’m so thankful to ICE. They’ve been giving me a chance to take care of it. They’ve been so great about it,” Gonzalez said, sitting in a quiet courtyard near his restaurant last week. “They understand my situation.” Customers occasionally interrupted our conversation. “I’ve been reading about you. Everything OK?” one woman asked after giving him a hug. “I’m so sorry about all this trouble. You going to be OK now?”
“Yes, I’m going to be OK,” Gonzalez responded, smiling.
Her husband, Chavez, entered the United States illegally 24 years ago, hoping to escape the violence of Guatemala’s civil war. His father was killed when Chavez was a toddler, and his family continued to face threats, Carrillo said. When Chavez was 17, he was caught up in an immigration raid at a chicken slaughterhouse he worked at in Ohio, according to his attorney, Hector Diaz. Because he was a minor, the agents decided not to detain him. Chavez, who spoke a Mayan dialect and no English or Spanish at the time, moved to Rhode Island for a different job and says he never got notice of the immigration proceedings against him, according to his lawyer. The proceedings went on in Chavez’s absence, and an immigration judge issued a final order of removal against him in 1996, ICE told The Intercept in a statement. (He received a second order of removal 10 years later after using false identification, according to ICE.)
The couple met in Massachusetts shortly after Carrillo made the journey across the southern border into Arizona in 2002. They got married and had a child and, when Jimmy was 1 1/2 years old, they moved to Jupiter. At that time, the town of 64,000 people was experiencing a boom in Guatemalan immigrants looking for jobs in construction, according to a 2007 film called “Jupiter or Bust: The El Sol Solution.”
Carrillo and Chavez lived in the shadows for many years while Jimmy attended Jupiter public schools. In 2014, they turned themselves in, Diaz said, reassured by the fact that they did not fall into any of the Obama administration’s priority categories for removal. They were entered into a supervised release program that required them to check in with ICE annually, the lawyer said, and they have been able to get work permits ever since.
The same program that brought the family out of the shadows ultimately led to Chavez’s detention when the policy was changed under Trump, and the check-ins became roundups.
In Chavez’s absence, Carrillo has become the family’s sole breadwinner, taking on laborious tasks while she works in the front office of their tire shop, where the walls are covered with colorful tapestries from Guatemala.
“I only did the front office. I took the orders and spoke to people that came in. I did not do the heavy work,” she told The Intercept, speaking through an interpreter. “The tires are very heavy. It’s a man’s work because you have to have strength to lift up the tires.”
Jimmy, who helps his parents out at the shop when he’s not in school, wants to become a biotechnical engineer, but he said his father’s absence has made getting through school more difficult.
“It’s been hard because I haven’t had that person to be around me and help me out in certain things that I need,” he said. “Take, for example, my homework sometimes. He would be there to try to teach me how he learned it and how he memorized so many things. Now that he isn’t here, it’s kind of hard now doing my summer packet because I don’t have his advice.”
“It’s God. He makes me strong and he gives me strength and I want people to know that there are people that are unjust,” she said. “It’s inhumane, but there is a God who is just, and he will get justice for us.”
An online petition calling on the Department of Homeland Security to halt Chavez’s threatened deportation has more than 1,000 signatures.
“There’s a lot of support in the community,” said Jill Hanson, a board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Her church has been very supportive, and people just couldn’t believe — people hoped that Trump didn’t mean half of what he said.”
The family supports a local soccer league, gives discounts to customers who can’t afford to pay full price for new tires, and is involved with El Sol, a neighborhood resource center that connects day laborers with employers and helps new immigrants adjust to life in the United States, Carrillo said.
El Sol was established in 2006, as Washington lawmakers struggled to pass immigration reform and Jupiter dealt with an influx of immigrants living in the country without legal permission who struggled to assimilate — but whose labor was necessary to the town’s success. The center “is a great achievement for a small town that had the political courage and community support to find a solution to a difficult problem,” said the narrator of the 2007 film.
Cliff Ross, El Sol’s gardening coordinator, has known Carrillo and Jimmy since he joined the organization one and a half years ago. They invited him to Jimmy’s birthday party, Ross said, and Carrillo took good care of him when he took his car in for a tire change.
Ross, a landscaper, manages the gardening plots El Sol rents out to local residents. Carrillo plants one of those plots. All the gardeners must share 10 percent of their crops with El Sol’s kitchen as a condition of the lease, but Carrillo stands out because of her generosity, Ross said. “They share everything they grow,” he said.
The Chavez family is a role model to other immigrants in Jupiter, said Andres Lopez, El Sol’s communications coordinator. “That’s something to aspire to: to be established, to have your own business, to be able to give back,” Lopez said. “This family has remained committed to El Sol despite not needing us.”