Immigration

He exposed abuse at a Florida immigrant detention center. Now he’s in prison

Claudio Rojas
Claudio Rojas Courtesy of The Infiltrators

Weeks after a documentary exposing injustices at a South Florida for-profit immigration detention center debuted at a national film festival, Claudio Rojas— the film’s inside source— was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Miramar during his annual visa check-in, records show.

The film, “The Infiltrators,” also will premiere at the Miami Film Festival on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Silverspot Cinema. Rojas was planning to attend.

Records show Rojas remained detained at Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade as of Sunday. His attorneys say he was apprehended Wednesday without cause and is now facing immediate deportation.

“They called Claudio’s name and then three agents just grabbed him,” one of his lawyers, Sandy Pineda, told the Miami Herald over the weekend. “He has no criminal record. They did not allow us any due process, did not allow his attorneys to talk to him and took away his passport. They told us we had nothing to say to him and that his order for arrest came from the higher-ups. It’s grotesque.”

ICE said it “cannot comment on this case.”

Rojas— an Argentine immigrant turned fiery activist who has made national headlines over the last decade — became a gold mine of information to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance after he was first detained by ICE in 2010 for overstaying his visa. He lives in Miramar with his wife and his two adult children, and just became a grandfather.

The 53-year-old leaked the complex workings of the Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit institution that detained hundreds of immigrants without trial, filmmakers said. The Broward facility serves as a holding space for impending deportations of immigrants who came into the country illegally.

Immigrant detention is expanding under the Trump administration, increasing the risk of sexual assault in a system where abuse is not uncommon. Two women told us their stories of being sexually abused by guards while under the custody of ICE.

His statements to the non-profit, which at the time was trying to halt his deportation, inspired the making of a film — “The Infiltrators”— which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in early February.

The documentary follows a “rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers –who deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center,” according to the film’s synopsis. It exposes the “awful conditions immigrants face while unfairly detained and holding no power over their future.”

The events depicted took place in 2012, during the Obama administration.

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Claudio Rojas (pictured right) on set of The Infiltrators. Pictured on the right is the actor playing his character. The Infiltrators

According to Pineda, Rojas has a pending T Visa application. His lawyers have also filed a stay of deportation, which has been denied, but has since filed a motion to reopen it.

T Visas are issued to victims of human and labor trafficking. His attorneys say Rojas became an applicant after being victimized by an employer, a case under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor. According to ICE policy, people with pending T Visas are granted protection from deportation and can serve as a pathway to permanent resident status.

Viridiana Martinez, one of the original infiltrators who purposely got booked into the detention center, told the Miami Herald that the filmmakers believe Rojas’ “detention is retaliation for his activism.”

“It’s retaliation for who Claudio represents — the undocumented immigrants that have fought back and have not accepted detention as their only option; the people that say ‘I’m going to fight for my freedom,’ ” Martinez said, citing Rojas’ hunger strikes and consequential solitary confinements.

Martinez said the immigrant community is hoping for congressional intervention, specifically from the office of Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who in 2012 called on ICE to investigate Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach. Twenty-six House members signed Deutch’s letter to ICE Director John Morton, urging a “case-by-case” review of each individual detainee.

“We’re knocking on his door right now hoping that he will match the courage that Claudio has by introducing a private bill,” Martinez said. “Now is the time to go to bat.”

A spokesman for Deutch said in an email that “the congressman’s office is looking into it.”

Cristina Ibarra, one of the co-directors of the movie, has written an open letter to ICE requesting that Rojas be released and allowed to attend the Miami festival screenings this week.

“Separate from this Florida screening, Mr. Rojas has already been invited to appear in a number of other film festivals across the nation,” Ibarra wrote. “As a result of ICE’s actions, the American public will now lose his voice in the many upcoming national conversations about our immigration policy.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Rene Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a 2018-2019 Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston.A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique O. Madan confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.

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