Behind bars at ICE, MIT custodian awaits court ruling on unlawful detainment

Francisco Rodriguez was arrested after ICE ‘reneged on their agreement,’ lawyer says

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Francisco Rodriguez before his July 13 detainment by ICE.
Rose Lincoln

More than a month after being detained by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), MIT custodian and Chelsea resident Francisco Rodriguez remains behind bars.

Rodriguez came to the U.S. illegally in 2006 to escape gang violence in El Salvador, according to an interview with WBUR earlier this month. After being refused asylum in 2007, he has received yearly stays of removal, which had allowed him to remain in the country.

This year, his request for another stay was denied, and he was ordered to check in with ICE on July 13 with plane tickets back to El Salvador. Despite complying with the order, Rodriguez was taken into federal custody by ICE. According to WBUR, a statement from ICE asserted that Rodriguez was arrested for failing “to make timely arrangements for his departure back to El Salvador.”

But his lawyer, Matt Cameron, said in a call with The Tech that “ICE’s statement is a lie,” and that ICE never indicated that the departure had to fall within a certain time frame. Rodriguez’s legal team had purchased the ticket for a date after the birth of his son.

“This is a completely arbitrary and unlawful detainment,” Cameron said. “They completely reneged on their agreement with him. They said that as long as he showed up with the plane tickets, they wouldn’t take him in.”

Franklin Soults, senior communications associate at Rodriguez’s union, 32BJ SEIU, said in a call with The Tech that court records indicated that ICE had been planning to move Rodriguez on July 14 to Louisiana and deport him the next Wednesday.

Rodriguez may have already been deported if not for his union, which has organized public action on his behalf, including hosting rallies in front of the State House.

Direction from Washington for ICE to take action against illegal immigrants, even those with no criminal history, has resulted in “a lot of folks detained and deported,” Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said in a call with The Tech. Unlike Rodriguez, “they’re not connected to organizations who can make their case known. By the time we find out, they’ve already been moved out.”

According to the ICE website, arrests of illegal immigrants between January and April increased by 37.6 percent this year from last year. At the same time, the number of illegal immigrants who were convicted criminals only rose 18.6 percent.

Sergio Medina, who works with Rodriguez as a custodian at MIT, was granted asylum when he fled to the U.S. from Colombia and is now a U.S. citizen. Like Rodriguez, Medina was feared for his life due to gang violence. And the situation in El Salvador, Rodriguez’s home country, has not improved, Medina said in a call with The Tech.

Medina didn’t find out that Rodriguez was an undocumented immigrant until after the latter was refused a stay of removal. Because Rodriguez applied for asylum, he had social security and a work permit to employed by MIT, Medina said.

“It’s really unfair, you know,” Medina added. “He was a hard worker. He had his own company, so he was paying double taxes.”

What will Rodriguez face in El Salvador if ICE does deport him? 

“If they deport him, he’ll go back with nothing. In our countries, if you’re after 30, you won’t be able to find a job,” Medina said. Rodriguez would also be vulnerable to the gang violence from which he fled in the first place.

Rodriguez’s union, together with Jobs With Justice, has organized a petition calling on Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker to speak out about Rodriguez. Rivera hopes that Baker can “weigh in” with ICE on Rodriguez’s behalf. This could involve Baker indicating to ICE that Rodriguez was unlawfully detained and being “a voice in Washington” concerning the attitude towards immigration that he wants to see in Massachusetts.

Baker, a Republican, previously told reporters that he doesn’t think Rodriguez meets the criteria for ICE’s focus on arresting convicted and charged criminals. But he has not yet asked for Rodriguez's release. Even if he did, it’s unclear if his appeal would have a lasting effect: a pardon from the state governor failed to prevent an undocumented mom from Virginia from being deported to El Salvador.

Rodriguez is currently safeguarded from deportation by two court orders, Soults wrote in an email to The Tech. The Board of Immigration Appeals is deliberating his case for asylum, and has ordered that he stay in the country until they decide whether to reopen the case or not. His lawyers have also filed a habeas corpus petition before the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on the grounds of unlawful detainment, and ICE has agreed to keep him in the state until the court issues a ruling on the petition.

If the board decides to reopen his application for asylum, he would be eligible for release from detention by posting a bond. Both the habeas petition and the asylum appeal have stalled, Cameron said, though he believes his client has a strong case for both.

Rodriguez is able to speak to his family regularly, Rivera said, but he was not permitted to attend the birth of his son earlier this month. Lily Huang, an organizer with Jobs With Justice and the author of the Baker petition, told The Tech that Rodriguez’s mother, a permanent resident, has visited him twice after going through a two-week approval process.