MIT janitor Francisco Rodriguez released from ICE detainment after five months

Rodriguez free pending appeal to reopen asylum case

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Francisco Rodriguez spoke at a Dec. 22 press conference following his release from a five-month detainment by ICE.

MIT custodian Francisco Rodriguez was released from detainment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Dec. 22 after being held for five months.

In early December, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver granted a request from Rodriguez’s legal team to put his deportation on hold, pending a decision on his appeal to reopen his asylum case. This decision will likely not be made until the latter half of 2018, John Bennett, a member of Rodriguez's legal team, said in a phone interview with The Tech.

“We are presenting some new facts as part of the motion to reopen the case,” Bennett said. “We are arguing that these new facts will subject Rodriguez to violence if he returns to El Salvador.” Bennett said he could not elaborate on what these “new facts” were due to concerns for Rodriguez’s safety.

The most important factor in determining whether people qualify for asylum status is whether they have a legitimate fear of violence if they return to their home country, according to Bennett.

Rodriguez left his home country of El Salvador in 2006 after his co-worker was murdered by a gang, according to a Boston Herald article. He was denied asylum status in 2009, but he was granted yearly stays of removal and permits that authorized him to work in the U.S. For the past five years, he worked as a custodian at MIT.

In July 2017, Rodriguez’s request to renew his stay of removal was denied, and he was ordered to check in with ICE July 13 with a plane ticket back to El Salvador, according to previous Tech coverage.

“We were never provided with an explanation as to why his request was denied. Generally speaking, immigration laws have been enforced more rigorously in some respects with the new administration,” Bennett said.

Despite purchasing a plane ticket, Rodriguez was taken into federal custody for failing “to make timely arrangements for his departure,” according to a statement from ICE. Rodriguez’s ticket was for a date after the expected birthdate of his son in late July. Matt Cameron, another member of his legal team, told The Tech in a previous phone call that ICE had never indicated the departure had to fall within a certain time frame.

Rodriguez’s detainment caused public outcry from the MIT community and his labor union, 32BJ SEIU (Service Employees International Union). The Office of the General Counsel at MIT secured the law firm Goodwin Procter to join his legal team pro bono.

“[The Counsel] cannot advise individuals because we represent the Institute, but we try to help and provide general guidance on issues that we want to support, such as when one of our community members is in danger of being deported,” Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo said in a phone interview with The Tech. “It was a senior leadership decision to offer support to Rodriguez.”

Professors Susan Silbey, Thomas Kochan, and Phillip Sharp sent an email to all faculty Aug. 17 asking for donations to an online “GoFundMe” fundraiser to support Rodriguez’s family. About 200 faculty members contributed over $30,000 in total, according to an article that Kochan wrote that will be published in the January/February faculty newsletter.

“The motto ‘One MIT’ means that we value all members of our community. One way of doing this is by showing support for a colleague during difficult times,” Kochan said in a phone interview with The Tech.

Rodriguez’s union also held rallies in Boston Common, outside the State House, and in front of the Student Center, as well as a birthday party for him while he was in prison. “Many people think that the union’s responsibility is to figure out issues that deal with people’s jobs and make sure that people are represented at work. We definitely do that, but we are also political workers with regards to issues that impact our members,” Amity Paye, 32BJ SEIU’s northeast regional communications manager, said in a phone interview with The Tech.

Meanwhile at home, Rodriguez had the opportunity to celebrate Christmas with his family and finally meet his infant son after missing his birth.

Paye said, “Francisco’s case is a call to action. If a community stands up for its members, we can really protect each other.”