U.S. Markets closed

UM Law Professor Sues ICE on Behalf of Immigrant Activist Featured in Documentary

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Washington, D.C./Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

A federal lawsuit has accused the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of abridging the constitutional rights and protections of a South Florida immigrant rights activist being threatened with deportation.

The suit by University of Miami School of Law professor Rebecca Sharpless, filed in the Southern District of Florida, accuses ICE of breaking the law by detaining Claudio Rojas, a Miramar resident and advocate for immigrants in the U.S.

ICE apprehended Rojas, who's resided in the U.S. since emigrating from Argentina in 2000, on Feb. 27 during a routine appointment with the immigration agency.

Sharpless, who serves as the director of UM's Immigration Clinic, alleges in the complaint that Rojas' apprehension was prompted by his high-profile activism. The filing singles out his participation in "The Infiltrators" — a 2019 documentary chronicling conditions at the Broward Transitional Center immigrant detention facility — as a reason ICE targeted him.

"Mr. Rojas’s detention and imminent removal comes at a time when immigrant activists

have become increasingly targeted for detention and deportation following high profile advocacy," the complaint said. "Whistleblowers and journalists have uncovered reports of ICE and other immigration agencies keeping tabs and files on immigrant activists and peaceful gatherings."

ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias told the Daily Business Review the department "cannot comment on this case.”

Read the complaint: 

According to Rojas' legal counsel, Miami attorney Sandy Pineda, he is slated to be deported around March 30.

"Right now Claudio’s future is very unclear," Pineda said. "The only answers we have received from ICE are that they can’t really comment on the case, and they're investigating the pleading that we have filed."

The plaintiff's emergency request for a temporary stay and release order are pending.

The filing notes Rojas has been detained before. "The Infiltrators" partly documents the seven months he spent at the Broward Transitional Center in 2012.

"During his detentions, Mr. Rojas organized detainees in peaceful demonstrations and shared information about abuses in detention with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and other activist groups, hoping to spur changes in the immigration system," the complaint said.

The suit also contends ICE has not legally justified Rojas' present detainment in light of his pending application for U.S. citizenship.

"To date, ICE has offered no other explanation of why it has summarily revoked Mr. Rojas’s order of supervision and taken him into custody," the complaint said. "Nor has ICE explained why it has denied Mr. Rojas’s request for a stay of removal and is attempting to deport Mr. Rojas despite his pending T and U Visa Applications."

Pineda and Sharpless have argued the emergency motion before Senior U.S. District Judge James L. King.

University of Miami School of Law Professor and Immigration Clinic Director Rebecca Sharpless. Courtesy photo

“ICE’s power is not limitless,” Sharpless said in a statement on the litigation. “When ICE rushes to deport someone without following the law, courts must act. The stakes are just too high.”

The nine-count complaint accuses ICE of violating Rojas' due process protections by threatening him with deportation while he awaits his T and U visas.

"As physical presence in the United States is a condition of eligibility, Rojas' T Nonimmigrant status cannot be granted once he is removed," according to the complaint. "Similarly, if Mr. Rojas is removed before his application for U visa status is adjudicated, or his removal case is reopened, he will be deprived of access to 'deferred action.' If granted 'deferred action,' Mr. Rojas will be allowed to remain and work in the country and await a U visa (along with other relief)."

The suit also charges ICE with undermining the First Amendment by retaliating against Rojas for his activism, in addition to violating the Fourth Amendment by arresting him without judicial probable cause.

Pineda said her client is being housed with approximately 120 other immigrant detainees in an 80-person capacity room at the Krome Detention Center in Miami. She noted Rojas has gotten sick since he was brought to Krome.

"To this day we’re unsure if Claudio's seen a doctor," Pineda said, adding he is being visited on Wednesday for a check on his well-being. She maintained ICE officials still "have not given any reason why they have detained him."

She said, "It’s a very terrible situation for the family."

Related stories: 

Somalis Alleging Abuses by ICE Personnel Seek More Time in US

Lawsuit Accuses Monroe Sheriff of Illegally Detaining US Citizen for ICE

$1M Bond Posted in Miami for Ecuadorian Brothers Accused of Embezzlement

University of Miami School of Law Professor and Immigration Clinic Director Rebecca Sharpless