checking in with ICE officers March 17 that, unless he left the country on his own, he would likely be taken into custody at his next check-in, then scheduled for June, Hujber said.
Gonzalez, 36, moved to Palm Beach County from Mexico about 20 years ago. The West Palm Beach resident has no criminal record and is married to a U.S. citizen with whom he has three American-born children. Gonzalez has checked in regularly with immigration authorities who, until recently, have granted him a stay to remain living and working in this country, Hujber said. But the administration of President Donald Trump has taken a hard line on immigration. That message was clearly delivered by the ICE officers at the March 17 meeting, Hujber said. “They said, ‘This is Trump time now. The party of Obama is over.’ ”
The June meeting has since been scooted forward to April 21 at ICE’s office of Enforcement and Removal Operations in Miramar, which is not a good sign for his client, Hujber said. April 21 is a Saturday, which means there was a mistake and the meeting will likely be scheduled for another day the following week, Hujber said.
In Palm Beach on Tuesday, Gonzalez said he wasn’t asking anything of the council, which has no control over his fate. “I just want to thank you for having welcomed me so kindly to your town, a town that I dearly love,” he said. “If the worst happens, I will always be grateful for the opportunity you have given me.”
The audience applauded.
Gonzalez is known in the community by his middle name, Javier. He and his wife, Tara, have three daughters, ages 6, 8 and 11. The couple married in 2006 after meeting at the landmark Worth Avenue restaurant where Gonzalez has worked since 2009.
He came to Palm Beach County from Mexico when he was 15 to live with his brother, using what he thought was a valid visa. After graduating from high school, Gonzalez returned to Mexico in 2001 to visit his parents. When he came back to South Florida, he was told at the airport that the visa was not valid. Gonzalez was deported and banned from returning to the United States for five years, according to Hujber. But Gonzalez returned to this country illegally within the five-year time frame. Despite his marriage to a U.S. citizen, the illegal crossing has been an obstacle to his efforts to obtain a green card.
“When he came back again, that is the problem,” Hujber has said. “That is what makes this case more difficult.”
Hujber said Gonzalez’s case has been complicated by what happened in Houston, when he was deported under an “expedited order of removal.” Hujber said he’s attempting to get that order revoked.
“I made a dumb mistake,” Gonzalez said Tuesday.
Gonzalez was issued an “administrative stay of deportation” in 2016 and has been routinely checking in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Broward County ever since.
A petition bearing nearly 40,000 signatures Wednesday on the web site Change.org urges the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Houston, among others, to stop the deportation.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council unanimously voted to ask Coniglio to write a letter in support of Gonzalez. It was not immediately clear to whom the letter will be directed. But prominent Worth Avenue landlord Burt Handelsman suggested the town send a letter to Trump.
“A letter from this council to our president, who shares this town with us, might be extremely helpful,” Handelsman said.
Handelsman called Gonzalez “the American dream ... I think he’s a major asset to this town.”
Rene Silvin, vice chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, said Gonzalez “delights all [Pizza Al Fresco] guests with his charisma, his kindness and his impeccable service.”
Coniglio said Gonzalez exemplifies the values of hard work, dedication and community service. “We wish you well and are grateful for you service to our community,” she said.
Councilwoman Margaret Zeidman said she wishes Gonzalez not just luck but “reason, compassion and intelligence” at the upcoming meeting with immigration officers. “It’s always a delight to see your smiling face as we enter your restaurant for dinner,” she said.
Francisco Javier Gonzalez, manager of Pizza Al Fresco, embraces his family: his wife, Tara Gonzalez, and daughters Aviana, left, Bianca and Karina, right. The federal government could send him back to Mexico, separating his family.
Burt Handelsman, left, speaks on behalf of restaurant manager Francisco Javier Gonzalez at the council meeting.