Francisco Rodriguez worked as a mechanical engineer in his native El Salvador, and things were going well at his company.
Actually, too well. A gangster, common as a cold in that part of the world, showed up with one hand open and the other holding a gun.
Shakedowns are one thing. Killings are another, and after one of his colleagues was murdered, Rodriguez decided to get out.
He had a sister in the United States, married to a US citizen, so he came here in 2006, landing in Boston in 2007. Like most immigrants, he found work. And like many, he tried to legalize his residency status using an arbitrary, overwhelmed system.
He applied for asylum, citing the violence in his native country. But that application was denied in 2009, and his appeal was denied in 2011. Still, federal authorities recognized his situation and have granted him a stay of removal every year since.
Until this year, that is. A couple of weeks ago, Rodriguez and his lawyer, Nicole Micheroni, went to a meeting at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Burlington, where Rodriguez was told to return for a follow-up in December.
But, hours later, Micheroni got a phone call from ICE and was told that Rodriguez should instead come back next month. Oh, and he needed to come back with his travel documents and a purchased airline ticket to El Salvador.
“I have no idea what changed,” Micheroni said.
I have an idea. It’s called a new administration in Washington that has decided that going after decent people like Francisco Rodriguez is a lot easier than going after gangsters and drug dealers who might fight back.
Francisco Rodriguez, 43, faces deportation not in spite of being a pillar of his community, but precisely because he is one. He’s low-hanging fruit, easy to pick.
For the last five years, he has worked as a custodian at MIT, where more than 1,000 students, faculty, and administrators have signed a petition asking federal authorities to let him stay.
Francisco Rodriguez is more than a janitor. He’s a job creator. He runs a carpet-cleaning business during the day before heading to his night shift at MIT. In between, he ferries his two daughters, 10 and 5, both US citizens, to and from school in Chelsea, where his family lives. He is deeply involved in their school, his church, and his union, SEIU Local 32BJ.
Francisco Rodriguez has no criminal record. He pays taxes. He is very involved in his community, in all the right ways. His wife, in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy, is due in August. And still they want to throw him out of the country.
Roxana Rivera, vice president of his union, said Francisco’s plight is all the more disturbing because he is the poster boy for those seeking annual renewal of their stay of removal. Do the right thing, and the stay is typically renewed.
“Why take a good man away from his family?” she asks.
What makes the decision to deport Francisco Rodriguez even more perplexing, more petty, more cruel, is that his mother, a legal US resident, will get her citizenship next year, making her eligible to sponsor him to become a legal resident.
The people who know and love Francisco Rodriguez are hoping that his prominent supporters, which include the state’s US senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren; congressman Mike Capuano; and other bigshots, will persuade federal immigration officials to reconsider.
Francisco Rodriguez told me he works anywhere from 16 to 18 hours a day.
“I just want to be able to take care of my children,” he said.
Another irony: If he’s thrown out of this country, at least part of the burden of taking care of those children will fall on US taxpayers.
Beyond that, if Francisco Rodriguez is deported, this country will be a little smaller, a little meaner, with nowhere to go but down.