President Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the “bad hombres.” The government’s decision to remove Magaña Ortiz shows that even the “good hombres” are not safe. Magaña Ortiz is by all accounts a pillar of his community and a devoted father and husband. It is difficult to see how the government’s decision to expel him is consistent with the President’s promise of an immigration system with “a lot of heart.” I find no such compassion in the government’s choice to deport Magaña Ortiz.
—Judge Stephen Reinhard
US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, May 30, 2017
Andres Magaña-Ortiz did everything right. He raised a loving family, built a solid business that employed his neighbors, gave his heart, soul, and treasure to help his adopted country, and tried to become a citizen. But the paperwork didn’t pan out, and on July 7, 2017, this husband, father, and deeply entrenched member of his community was deported to a country he barely remembered.
This story shook me to my core. As a father of four, I cannot begin to imagine what it feels like to be relegated to bystander status, watching as my family gets torn apart.
When Judge Reinhardt issued his scathing indictment of our immigration system in his decision on Ortiz’s case—a decision he was legally bound to make, despite his strongest moral objections—I knew we had to make a film. Martin Sheen had a similar reaction. We got to work.
Below is a conversation we had afterward.
Robert Greenwald: In terms of Judge Reinhardt’s statement, is there anything in particular that jumped out at you? That reached you intellectually or emotionally?
Martin Sheen: It forces all of us to really consider our vision of what our country is about. The United States of America exists because people were fleeing oppression. That was the basis for constructing this new colossus, if you will, this new country, an experiment in democracy.
And that seems to have been thrown away now, and it’s done with such impunity. I dare say that I don’t know how many of these people that are making these decisions in this administration, particularly in the Justice Department, have any connection whatsoever in their own personal lives to immigration. In their own families, or friends. How far back do they go with their own nationality?
MS: And I think that’s very important. Because I came to this issue right at the first step. I’m a first-generation American, both of my parents were immigrants. And they came here during very difficult times in the countries they left.
My father was Spanish and he was born the week that the United States declared war on Spain in 1898. When he came to the United States with his brother in 1914, he was a 16-year-old boy trying to immigrate. They were refused admission to the port of New York because there was still a quota on Spaniards, not Hispanics, but Spaniards, because of the Spanish-American War. And so he and his brother got on the next boat to Havana, and my dad spent three years working in the sugar-cane fields of Havana and came into the United States through the port of Miami as a Cubano.