Law school’s Immigration Clinic files suit in support of activist
Activist Claudio Rojas was featured in a documentary film, “The Infiltrators,” which is critical of ICE detention policies.
The University of Miami Law School’s Immigration Clinic, along with a coalition of immigrant rights organizations, filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida, seeking release and a stay of deportation for immigrant rights activist Claudio Rojas.
According to the lawsuit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained Rojas on Feb. 27 when he appeared for a routine immigration appointment. His abrupt detention came at the heels of the Sundance Film Festival premiere of a documentary film, “The Infiltrators,” which features Rojas’s activism and criticism of ICE detention policies.
The case, Rojas v. Moore, is awaiting a decision on an emergency motion before Judge James Lawrence King, with ICE poised to deport Rojas as soon as March 30. An emergency request for a temporary stay and release order is pending.
“ICE’s power is not limitless,” said Professor Rebecca Sharpless, director of the Immigration Clinic, who argued the emergency motion. “When ICE rushes to deport someone without following the law, courts must act. The stakes are just too high.”
Rojas’s detention has already had a chilling effect on the immigrant rights and documentary film communities. “The Infiltrators centers on Claudio’s brave voice and the people he inspired to take action,” said Cristina Ibarra, one of “The Infiltrators” filmmakers, who submitted a declaration in support of Rojas. “He spoke out about detention and now he has been re-detained. That is the very definition of abuse of power.”
ICE’s actions, the lawsuit contends, are illegal. “The rule of law in this country includes, first and foremost, the Constitution,” said Alina Das and Jessica Rofe of the New York University Immigrant Rights Clinic, co-counsel on the suit. “ICE is not above the law. The First Amendment protects activists like Claudio from being targeted for detention and deportation because they speak out. No one wants to live in a country where the government can so easily silence dissent.”
Rojas’s detention and imminent deportation also threatens his pending applications for immigration status. A victim of a labor trafficking scheme by a former employer, Rojas had been working with the U.S. Department of Labor in its investigation. “Congress sought to protect victims of trafficking and crime from deportation. ICE can’t ignore those protections, or prevent other government agencies from investigating workers’ rights abuses,” said co-counsel Sarah Gillman and Gregory Copeland of NSC Community Legal Defense.
Rojas remains in Krome Service Processing Center, where he has been separated from his wife, two sons, and his grandson. Sandy R. Pineda and Francisco Lopez, Rojas’s immigration lawyers from Angel F. Leal, Jr., P.A., said, “Detaining Rojas is cruel, illegal, and unnecessary. ICE has never once suggested that Rojas is a flight risk or danger. His family needs him home.”
DreamActivist and several other organizations has been organizing for Rojas’s release and an end to efforts to deport him.