Two immigrant-rights activists arrested at demonstration in Sen. Bill Nelson’s office

An immigrant-rights group occupied the Coral Gables office of Bill Nelson to pressure the U.S. senator to intervene in the case of an undocumented Argentine.

08/08/2012 5:00 AM

08/09/2012 7:53 AM

An alliance calling for the release of undocumented immigrants in Florida’s detention centers is pressing Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to defer the deportation of an Argentine man.

Claudio Rojas was detained in February and has reportedly started a hunger strike at the Krome detention center.

On Wednesday, several activists of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance occupied Nelson’s Coral Gables office and delivered a letter asking the senator, who was not there, to help Rojas. “The situation is grim for Claudio, we ask you Senator Nelson to take immediate action,” the letter says.

Protesters sat in the office, empty but for an intern, to ask the senator for action. They wanted a response from Nelson himself.

“The least he can do is write a letter of support,” said Mohammad Abdollahi, the 26-year-old organizer of the protest.

They didn’t get one.

At 5 p.m., closing time for the senator’s office, the activists were asked to leave. Most left, but two refused. By 5:30 p.m., Coral Gables police arrived and they were arrested. Their names had not been released by police Wednesday night, but fellow protesters identified them as Judith Huerta. and Benito Miller. It’s unclear what charges they faced. The activists’ arrest was captured on video by The Miami Herald.

It all began around noon when six activists, some of them wearing T-shirts saying “I am undocumented,” found themselves in an odd situation. The only person in the office was an intern working for Nelson. He didn’t ask the activists in. Instead, he stepped outside and accidently locked himself out.

Quickly, the activists accused him of deliberately preventing them from entering the office. The intern, who didn’t want to be identified, denied the accusation and left to get a second key.

When he returned more than an hour later to let them in, the protesters had covered the outside of the office with several big posters and signs.

“Deportation equals broken families,” read one. “Freedom for Claudio Rojas,” said another. People who passed by occasionally stopped in front of the office wondering what was going on.

The activists of the Youth Alliance see Rojas’ detention as an example of inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.

Rojas, a father of two, came to the United States from Argentina in 2000, the activists say. Apparently without any criminal record, Rojas was detained in 2010 at Port Everglades when he attempted to pick up his son.

Both were sent to a Broward detention center and released three months later.

After his release, officials reportedly ordered Rojas to leave the country. In February, he was detained again by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has now been moved to Krome in West Miami-Dade. According to the activists, he is kept in solitary confinement and has been on a hunger strike for the last 18 days.

Krome officials could not be reached Wednesday.

Nelson’s spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, said late Wednesday that the senator’s office is closely watching the Rojas case.

“We’ve asked ICE for some answers and conveyed a sense of urgency in the case of Claudio Rojas,” McLaughlin said. “If the facts indicate Rojas is eligible for release, we’ll push to make that happen.”

Said Abdollahi: “We are not leaving Nelson’s office. We specifically asked for the senator himself to take action. Having a caseworker call the ICE is simply not enough after 18 days of hunger strike.”

Miami Herald photographer Chuck Fadely contributed to this report.

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