Claudio Rojas was so desperate for his freedom at one point that he felt only God could help..
“When you see that some doors are closed, you have to look for another way,” he says. “I made a pact with the Lord. I promised to fast for 30 days and as you can see, the Lord found a way.”
Rojas, an undocumented immigrant from Argentina, came to the end of a painful journey last week when he was unexpectedly released from the federal Broward Transitional Center.
He had spent seven months behind bars in different detention facilities after his February arrest.
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Outside, he was welcomed by his wife Liliana and two sons, Emiliano, 23, and David, 15.
“He looked skinnier – but fine,” said Emiliano.
For Claudio Rojas, now back in his Miramar home, his freedom feels like beginning a new life.
“I’m 46, but I feel like I’m 20,” he says.
But, he knows his future is still unclear. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would not discuss his case because of privacy reasons, but Rojas says he must follow strict rules.
“At this moment, I find myself on probation. I have to cooperate with everything. I can’t miss an appointment,” he says.
He and his lawyer already have begun to prepare for the first hearing with ICE on Wednesday.
Dealing with immigration authorities is nothing new for Rojas. In fact, he has done so ever since he arrived in the United States in 2000.
He left Argentina for new opportunities. He and a cousin arrived in Miami on a 90-day visa. His wife and two sons followed two months later.
The family settled in Opa-locka.
Claudio got a job in landscaping. His wife started working as a cleaning lady. Emiliano enrolled in public school.
Life was good. The only thing missing were proper papers. In the years after 9/11, authorities were not rushing to provide immigrants with documentation.
Rojas was detained for the first time in 2010 along with his oldest son. They were brought to Broward Transitional Center and released three months later. An immigration judge granted Rojas the option of voluntarily returning to Argentina within four months. He declined.
ICE issued an order of removal.
In February 2012, ICE detained him again. Over the next few months, he made several applications to remain, but was denied each time.
There seemed no way to avoid deportation — until he suddenly was released.
Now, he hopes ICE will finally allow him to stay in the U.S.
“I believe that if I comply with everything, I can get my [legal] residency,” he says.
For now, he believes his experience could bolster other immigrants’ hopes.
“I would tell people in this situation not to stop fighting for their rights, especially for people who have a clean record,” he says.
Activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance publicized Rojas’ case. In early August, six protesters organized a sit-in at Sen. Bill Nelson’s office in Coral Gables to raise awareness for what they said was an example of inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants.
Nelson, a Democrat, asked Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to review the case.
Rojas’ release was a success for them, said activist Mohammad Abdollahi.
But Nelson’s office disputed the notion that the senator’s involvement had anything to do with the protests.
“We are involved in a lot of deportation cases. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not,” Nelson’s spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. “If an activist group advocates for a specific case or not, does not really make a difference for us. When families ask us for help, we try to get involved.”
Rojas’ release came “on an order of supervision,” said Nestor Yglesias, an ICE spokesman for Miami.
“The determination that Mr. Rojas’ continued detention was not in the best interest of the agency was made after the most recent review of his case.”
Rojas says he just feels happy now.
“It was a glorious day for me,’’ he said. “Although it is still not complete, it will be complete when my family and I can stay.”