A Los Angeles family's tears of despair turned into tears of joy Friday, as a father picked up by immigration agents almost a month ago returned home.
"I'm not a criminal. I've [dedicated] all my life [to] raising my children," said Jose Luis Garcia with tears in his eyes, surrounded by loved ones in Santa Ana. "It's such a feeling, just come alive again.[…] Being away from my family for 19 days - it's like killing me little by little. It's just not right."
It's been a tough couple of weeks for the Garcias that continued until the moment of the father's release. Immigration authorities initially said Friday he would be released in Santa Ana, then Los Angeles before he was eventually released at the original location.
Garcia was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on June 10 as he was watering the lawn at his Arleta home. Garcia has been in the United States since he was 13 years old.
"In distress, he was calling out my name, so I ran out, and I asked for a warrant - nobody showed me a warrant, nobody identified themselves," recalled Garcia's daughter Natalie. "They put him in an unmarked vehicle, and they just handed me a business card."
ICE agents gave her an "administrative" reason and a domestic dispute that was cleared in 2001 as justification for her father's detainment. However, with the president's zero-tolerance crackdown on immigration by undocumented persons, Garcia made it to the top of the deportation list.
But Garcia was not deported.
"They don't actually deport you, they hold you in there…" said Natalie. "So you give up the rights," added Jose Luis. "…until you volunteer to leave," Natalie finished.
"For the last four weeks it's been a fight to keep him here, to see where my dad is because he has high blood pressure, diabetes," Natalie said earlier. "So my concern was his health."
The family's hard work paid off. Friday afternoon, an immigration judge dropped the case, saying Garcia should have never been detained.
The family is using their experience to help others going through similar circumstances.
"We're fighting, and this is not just about my father, this fighting for all the families," said Natalie. "For everyone," echoed her father.
The family said they would be at the protest against Donald Trump's immigration policies in Downtown L.A. Saturday, one of many planned across the country.