Protestors seek release of MIT janitor detained by immigration authorities

Boston, MA - 8/03/2017 - Supporters gather at rally at South Bay immigration detention center in support of MIT janitor Fransisco Rodriguez. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Metro, Reporter: Correspondent, Topic: 04rodriguez, LOID: 8.3.3312803167.
Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Supporters of Francisco Rodriguez rallied at the South Bay correctional facility in Boston Thursday.

Francisco Rodriguez was not allowed to be with his wife Monday as she gave birth to their son, Josue Mateo Rodriguez, during an emergency delivery at a Boston hospital.

He has been jailed at the Suffolk County House of Correction since being taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 13.

On Thursday, dozens of people gathered at the jail to protest his detainment, including friends, community advocates, and faith leaders, creating a sea of purple signs and shirts bearing the logo of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which he belonged to as a janitor at MIT.


Rodriguez, 43, was detained following his attempt to renew a “stay of removal” from the country, which was denied — though he had received such a postponement every year since his asylum appeal was denied in 2011.

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“He represents what we think is happening with the Trump administration,” said Frank Soults, a spokesman for 32BJ.

“They’re trying to drive up numbers of people that they’re detaining, and the easiest thing for them to do is to go after the people who are following all the rules,” Soults said.

Speakers at the rally included Rabbi Mike Rothbaum of Congregation Beth Elohim, the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, associate minister for Ecological Justice at Bethel AME Church, and state Representative Marjorie Decker, Democrat of Cambridge.

In the midst of cheers and songs — “Free Francisco!” and “Courage my friend, you will not walk alone” — clear demands were made: for ICE to stop efforts to deport Rodriguez to his native El Salvador, and for his release from detention.


“We could not keep his family safe,” Decker said moments after her speech, choking back tears. “If we’re not the country where people can flee brutal violence, and they come here to build these incredibly productive, rich lives . . . then who are we? And what has changed within the last six months, that all of a sudden makes him somebody we don’t want living here?”

Rodriguez fled El Salvador in 2006 after a colleague at his engineering firm was murdered by gangsters and he feared for his safety.

He was denied asylum in the United States but was granted so-called stays of removal until this year, when he was instead instructed to report to an ICE office, with a prepaid plane ticket to El Salvador.

Nicole Micheroni, one of Rodriguez’s lawyers, said he presented a plane ticket at his meeting but still was detained.

When she requested that ICE allow him to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for 24 hours so he could witness the birth of his son, the request went unanswered.


In a statement, Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE, said the request was denied after an extensive review and careful consideration of its potential implications.

“Mr. Rodriguez is currently awaiting further judicial review in his case, and may ultimately be released from custody as a result,” Neudauer said. “ICE will often decline extraordinary requests based on the possible negative ramifications resulting in increased risk to officer, detainee or public safety.”

Rodreguiz, who runs a carpet-cleaning business in addition to working as a janitor, has two daughters as well as his newborn son. Micheroni said that until recently, she had never heard of someone like him being detained: a taxpayer with no criminal record.

“He’s a great example of the kind of person that’s being deported that wouldn’t have been deported in 2016,” Micheroni said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again,” she said. “This seems to be the new standard.”

Micheroni said a motion to reopen his case is pending with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Meanwhile, Rodreguiz has been offering a helping hand to those around him in the jail, assisting officers with interpreting for other inmates.

As the rally came to a close, protesters were invited to walk around the building’s perimeter toward the immigrant detainees wing of the facility. Rodriguez looked out from a third-floor window and waved.

“It’s definitely a thing of beauty,” said Hersch Rothmel, one of the protesters, hoisting a sign for Roriguez to see that said “Bring Francisco home now!!”

“The fact that he’s waving and smiling and in good spirits — that shows his strength,” he said.

Kiana Cole can be reached at