A Chelsea man who has been fighting to stay in the U.S. for more than 10 years is now suddenly facing deportation.
Despite receiving letters of support from Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, as well as from Rep. Michael Capuano, Francisco Rodriguez was taken into federal immigration custody Thursday when he arrived for a scheduled appointment with immigration officials.
A few hours after Rodriguez was taken into custody, dozens of protesters gathered in a circle on Boston's City Hall Plaza, holding signs that read "Release Francisco Now." Their chants calling for Rodriguez's release echoed off City Hall and the nearby JFK Federal Building, which houses Boston's U.S. Immigration Court.
Rodriguez arrived in the U.S. in 2006, fleeing gang violence in El Salvador. His asylum request was denied in 2011, but Rodriguez received what's called prosecutorial discretion — meaning he could stay in the country legally. He has no criminal record, and for several years has worked as a janitor at MIT while living in Chelsea. The father of two U.S-born children, Rodriguez has been granted that same discretion every year since then — until now.
Greg Romanovsky, chair of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says immigration officials are acting within their authority by detaining Rodriguez, who does have a removal order. But, Romanovsky says, his detention is still a departure from the way business was done under the previous administration.
"This administration seems more keen on scoring political points by picking up everyone they can find, and the easiest people to find are usually the good folks who report to their appointments and otherwise follow the government's instructions," Romanovsky said.
Rodriguez's lawyer, Matt Cameron, calls his client the face of immigration enforcement under President Trump.
"It's very possible that he will be at least scheduled for deportation in the next couple of weeks," Cameron said. "We're taking quick, very active legal measures to stop that."
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement saying Rodriguez was notified in June that he would need to make arrangements to leave the country. According to the statement, Rodriguez failed to do so.
But Cameron says Rodriguez did everything the officials instructed him to do, arriving to Thursday's appointment with travel arrangements in hand. Cameron is unclear why the scheduled flights were not satisfactory, and questions why ICE deemed it necessary to immediately take Rodriguez into custody.
"If we can't get relief for someone like this I'm very concerned about the system as a whole," Cameron said.
At the rally Thursday afternoon, standing before television cameras with her grandmother's hand resting on her shoulder, 10-year-old Melanie Rodriguez expressed confusion and sadness over what's happened to her father.
"The president said he was only taking criminals out of this country, and my dad doesn't have any criminal records," she whimpered. "I hope and I'm going to pray for my dad to be together with all my family again."
Cameron is exploring emergency measures, but in the meantime, Rodriguez is being held at the Suffolk County House of Corrections pending deportation.
This segment aired on July 14, 2017.