Among the chorus of voices calling Thursday for the release of MIT janitor Francisco Rodriguez from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, a quieter voice rang through.
“I want to stand up today for my dad, because he’s so important to me that I would give anything just for him,” 10-year-old Mellanie Rodriguez told a crowd of supporters gathered on the steps of the State House. “If he goes, I’m going with him.”
The 43-year-old father of two is facing deportation to El Salvador after being granted stays of removal for the past four years. Rodriguez, who has no criminal record, has been held at the Suffolk County House of Correction since last week, when he appeared before ICE to renew his stay in the country. Rodriguez recently wrote a letter from inside the jail imploring for his release, while community members continue to advocate on his behalf.
“I want to tell Mr. Governor Baker to stop my dad’s deportation to El Salvador because there’s a lot of criminals and they kill people, they rob, they do bad things,” Mellanie said, stumbling over the word deportation. “I want the liberty of my dad so we can be in this country of justice.”
US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have expressed support for Rodriguez, and on Thursday, at a rally sprinkled with chants in Spanish, Mellanie and union leaders called upon Governor Charlie Baker to do the same.
“I think the important mission for ICE is to focus on convicted and charged criminals,” Baker later said, according to a video posted by a MassLive reporter. “And, based on what I’ve read, I don’t think this gentleman meets that criteria.”
Roxana Rivera, vice president of the SEIU Local 32BJ building service workers union, said Rodriguez’s two daughters — Mellanie and 5-year-old Jessica — along with a baby due in August — stand to be hurt the most.
“This is her father. What future does she have without her father?” Rivera said through tears. “Unfortunately, [Mellanie is] seeing the harsh reality of decisions like this at a very young age. But her father has instilled in her values of family, values of doing the right, of being strong, and I think she was able to use that to find the courage to come forward.”
Following the rally, Mellanie led a small delegation of family and community members into the State House to deliver a packet of letters and signatures in support of Rodriguez’s release.
The governor’s director of constituent services, John Tapley, accepted the packet and assured the 10-year-old that Baker would receive the message.
“We think it’s important [that] the highest leaders in Massachusetts actually be able to say that they’re not for these extreme enforcement actions,” Rivera said. “Many folks are in the same situation as Francisco, where they’ve been given legal stay of removals for several years.”
Rivera said Thursday’s action at the State House was important to visibly demonstrate the importance of the issue.
“The goal of ICE is that all these cases go unnoticed,” she said. “If we’re not going to speak up on a case like this, what are we going to speak up on.”
Rodriguez’s attorney, Matt Cameron, said in 12 years as an immigration lawyer, he’s never seen so much support behind a single deportation case.
“I know [Francisco’s] overwhelmed by the support, too. He never expected this — he never expected any of this,” Cameron said. “This is a man who deserves it more than anyone I’ve ever met.”