An influential billionaire is going to bat for Francisco Javier Gonzalez, the longtime manager of one of Palm Beach’s most popular restaurants who faces deportation this month, despite no criminal record, an American wife and three U.S. born children.
Burt Handelsman, a 90-year-old real-estate mogul known as "the Mayor of Worth Avenue," asked the Palm Beach Town Council to draft a letter to President Donald Trump, asking him to stop U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from sending Gonzalez back to Mexico.
"A letter from this council to our president, who shares this town with us, might be extremely helpful. [Gonzalez is] the American dream … I think he’s a major asset to this town," Handelsman told Tuesday’s Palm Beach Town Council meeting at which Gonzalez emotionally said his time is running out.
"I know I may have to leave my family, my town and you," said Gonzalez, longtime manager of the popular Pizza Al Fresco restaurant, which is two miles north of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club, The Palm Beach Daily News reports.
Gonzalez’s potential ouster is the result of Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policy. He came to the U.S. at age 15 to live with his brother and after high school, returned to Mexico to visit his parents in 2001.
When he flew back, he was told his visa was not valid and was deported and banned from returning for five years. But he crossed the border illegally during that time. And despite his marriage to a U.S. citizen, the illegal crossing has stopped him from obtaining a green card. In 2016, Gonzalez received an "administrative stay," officials now say he is subject to ouster again.
"I made a dumb mistake,” Gonzalez told the council. "With the help of several residents I’m doing whatever I can to avoid deportation. But, frankly, even though I am a die-hard optimistic, I know I may have to leave my family, my town and you.
"I just want to thank you for having welcomed me so kindly to your town, a town that I dearly love. If the worst happens, I will always be grateful for the opportunity you have given me," he said, sparking applause from the audience.
Gonzalez is set to appear later this month at customs office in Miramar, where he’ll likely be arrested and deported.
Gonzalez's possible ouster has triggered a Change.org petition drive to stop the deportation, which as of Thursday has more than 40,000 signatures.
"Francisco speaks perfect English and has NO CRIMINAL HISTORY IN THE US or any other country in the world. He obtained his education, works hard, pays his taxes and lives an exemplary life abiding by all U.S. laws," the petition reads.
"Francisco met his wife in 2005 while both were working in a restaurant in Palm Beach … They fell in love and were married in 2006 … Their love continues to grow. They have three amazing daughters together, ages 10, 7, and 5.
"The girls’ futures will be seriously compromised if he is removed. Were they to remain in the U.S. without their father, the girls would suffer extreme emotional and psychological damage from the breakup of their solid family dynamic and the absence of their hero—their father."
Gonzalez’s lawyer Richard Hujber told the Daily News that at a meeting with immigration officials in March, "They said, 'This is Trump time now. The party of Obama is over.'"
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