This Houston Chef Was Mistakenly Held in an Immigrant Detention Center For Two Months After Returning From Honeymoon

Lead Photo: Marco Torres
Marco Torres
Read more

For 78 days, David Rodriguez, the head chef at Tout Suite Cafe in Houston, was locked down 23 hours a day in a Texas Immigration Center – all because of a government error. Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico but has been a U.S.permanent resident since the age 12, was detained at Miami International Airport in November 2015, as he and his wife, Vanessa, returned from honeymooning in Belize.

The system said that he had been convicted of a felony assault five years ago, which is a deportable offense, according to Houston Press. In reality, Rodriguez had not been convicted. In 2010, a man who appeared to be intoxicated threatened to harm Vanessa outside their Midtown apartment. Rodriguez grabbed softball bat from his car and hit the man in self defense. Eventually, the charge was dropped to a misdemeanor, which he pled guilty to.

At the airport in November, his green card was taken away. He was told to go to a Houston detention center to retrieve it. Instead, when he arrived, he was arrested. There, he got an intimate look at the U.S.’ immigration system. “I always hear a lot of people say that the immigration system is kind of broken,” he told the Houston Press. “It’s only when you go into a situation like that where you realize how broken the system really is. They treat you worse than a criminal.”

Marco Torres
Read more

In the time he was locked up, he could only communicate with his loved ones through a glass, much like a maximum-security prison. There were also some days that he didn’t even see the sun. He said that there were two stretches – the first lasting ~9 days and the second ~12 days – where he and the other detainees weren’t allowed to go outside because of bad weather.

Though Rodriguez has lived in the U.S. for 19 years, he was considered an “arriving alien,” at the airport, and wasn’t eligible for bond. After his original lawyers failed to expedite his case, David hired Houston-based immigration lawyer John Nechman, who was shocked to hear what Rodriguez had been through.

“It’s infuriating, of course,” Nechman said. “I would have challenged this from the first day if this case had been ours. David’s former attorney apparently did not, and that, along with mistakes in interpretation by [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection] as to the ramifications of his assault charge mean he has lost several weeks of his life being detained unnecessarily.”

David, who was released on January 21, may take legal action, but he’s more interested in making sure that what happened to him doesn’t happen to anyone else.

[H/T Houston Press]