The protagonist of an award-winning documentary chronicling the plight of immigrants will miss the film’s viewing in Miami. Instead, Claudio Rojas is being detained in an immigration detention facility, facing deportation.
Claudio Rojas was born in Argentina but has been living in the U.S. since 2000. His two sons are DACA recipients and his grandchild is an American citizen. Rojas has worked as a laborer and landscaper in Miami and is the main provider for his family.
After being detained by ICE in 2012, Rojas was held at the Broward Transitional Center (BTC) for seven months. He had no criminal record at that time, and his attorney believed he was eligible for release under the Morton Memo, which calls on ICE to refrain from pursuing undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record and do not pose a serious risk to the public.
During his time at BDC, Rojas realized that many other detainees were in the same situation and should be released. He began working with members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), an undocumented youth-led network committed to achieving equality for all undocumented youth. The NIYA had two undocumented immigrants intentionally detained at the BTC, so they could gather evidence. The NIYA claims that they helped successfully free dozens of detained immigrants, including Claudio – a claim ICE denies. The infiltration is also told in the award-winning film, The Infiltrators, which premiered at Sundance in January.
Since his release, Rojas had been checking in with ICE, without incident. He has a pending T-visa application, which allows victims of human trafficking and labor violations to live and work temporarily in the U.S. Yet, on the eve of the film’s Miami premiere, Rojas was detained during a routine check-in with ICE. According to his attorney, Rojas was not given due process or access to counsel and now faces immediate deportation. Why? Is this coincidence or retaliation?
Illegal immigration, the act of crossing the border without authorization, is a misdemeanor (a less than serious crime). Like Rojas, the vast majority of illegal immigrants come to this country to pursue a better life – to escape war, poverty, and/or religious persecution. For all intents and purposes, once they cross the border, they plan to stay and obey our laws. Like Rojas, they seek legal status, citizenship, the full rights and freedoms that all Americans enjoy.
Unfortunately, that isn’t an option, even for those who have lived in the U.S. for decades. It doesn’t matter that they worked hard, paid taxes, started businesses, contributed to the community, bought homes, and raised citizen children. Even if they tried to obtain legal status before they arrived, they would have failed. Why? Because our immigration system is broken; laws are rigid, outdated, and need an overhaul. If there was a path to citizenship, they would take it.
These immigrants are being denied the rights under which this country was founded. Their stellar behavior and contributions to society are ignored. And, the situation has become worse since Donald Trump took office. ICE has made it clear that they are targeting serious criminals, but have also pledged to round up any and all undocumented immigrants they encounter along the way. A growing number of immigrants, with no criminal background, have been deported or face deportation, while the President pushes for his wall.
Not only does a border wall deny the promise of America, statistics show that the vast majority of American citizens oppose its construction! A recent Gallup poll found that 60% oppose Trump’s plan while 81% would like to see a path to citizenship for law-abiding illegal immigrants. If we want to live in a country where “all men are created equal” we can’t just talk the talk, we must walk the walk.
The stories in The Infiltration are real and must be addressed. Congress must take decisive action to prevent them from being ripped from their families and deported to countries they may not even remember. I, for one, support laws that afford law-abiding immigrants a pathway to citizenship, especially those who have been living and working in the U.S for decades and positively contributing to the U.S. economy.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. The series consists of "Betrayal of Faith", "Betrayal of Justice", and "Betrayal in Blue", with a fourth book due out in 2019. You can learn more about these topical political, legal thrillers at markmbello.com. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.