The protagonist of an award-winning documentary chronicling the plight of immigrants held at a for-profit facility was supposed to be celebrating at a film première in Miami. Instead, Claudio Rojas is back at another immigration detention facility’s cell, facing deportation.
Sandy Pineda, Rojas’ attorney, said the Argentine has been taken into US custody again, years after his release.
Rojas, 53, was complying with a periodic visit that is required by the US government when he was jailed last week.
The Argentine faces deportation after being denied a request that allows certain immigrants who are in the country illegally to stay, despite a pending visa application, Pineda said.
For the film, three activists got detained on purpose in 2012 to infiltrate the facility in Pompano Beach, Florida, find Rojas and document cases of others inside there. The purpose of the mission was to fight the claim by then-US president Barack Obama that immigration enforcement focused on criminals. Many detained there had no criminal records.
Pineda said the immigration agency asked her to file newspaper clippings of Rojas’ activism in 2012.
Even though he has a pending visa application, Rojas was denied a request that allows certain immigrants who are in the country illegally to stay, and now faces deportation.
“Claudio was the centre of the story,” said Rivera, the filmmaker, adding that Rojas helped free many other immigrants from detention.
Rojas was scheduled to attend the Miami première of The Infiltrators on Tuesday.
The documentary won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival last month. It centres on a mission to infiltrate the detention facility to get Rojas and others out in 2012, when he was detained for overstaying his visa.
“We were supposed to be celebrating here in Florida, his participation in this award-winning Sundance film,” said the film’s co-director Alex Rivera. “What can be said? It’s very upsetting.” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it could not comment on this case.
Pineda said Rojas had applied for a ‘T’ visa, which allows victims of human-trafficking to live and work temporarily in the United States. The attorney would not comment on the case and only said agents from the US Labor Department were interviewing Rojas on Monday because “there is an ongoing investigation about his victimisation by his former employer.”
But the officers who detained him appeared to not know about his pending application or even the kind of visa, Pineda said.
Speaking on Tuesday from an immigrant detention facility, Rojas said he has been thinking about what could have prompted the detention, but said he hadn’t been given a specific reason. “I just shared my story. I don’t feel like I said anything attacking them,” Rojas said, referring to immigration enforcement agents. “But I have reasons to believe that this was a reprisal.”
Rojas, 53, said he was sleeping on a cot in a place that looks like a military barrack with 160 other detainees.
He was crushed because he wasn’t going to be able to attend this week’s premiere in Miami of The Infiltrators. He hadn’t been able to travel to Utah for the film festival because of conditions set by the prior detention for overstaying his visa, which inspired the making of the film back in 2012.
“I am hanging in there, but I never thought I would end up in detention again,” he said. “We know this is all a process. We are hoping for the best and trust God more than anything.”
‘ALL OVER AGAIN’
The non-profit organisation Dream Activist began collecting signatures on Monday to deliver to federal lawmakers, urging them to help stop his deportation. His family and friends set up a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 for legal bills.
Emiliano Rojas said his father was excited to be at the première in Miami and have a reunion with others who had also been detained in 2012.
“He had a hotel room booked where he was going to stay with my mom in downtown Miami,” Emiliano Rojas said. “It feels horrible. We are going through the same thing all over again.” The Miami screening of the documentary on Tuesday night did not escape controversy either. Two producers said festival employees told them they would not introduce the film and moderate a Q&A panel afterward because they did not want to appear to be taking a political stance.
“Silence is a political act — perhaps the most dangerous one,” Darren Dean, who has produced movies including 2017’s The Florida Project and 2015’s Tangerine, wrote on Facebook. The Miami Festival posted an apology on Facebook on Wednesday saying the incident “was an unfortunate misunderstanding and miscommunication” among personnel.