Argentine immigrant Claudio Rojas had so much to look forward to this year. He was celebrating the birth of his first grandchild and the premiere of a groundbreaking documentary in which he stars.
On the eve of the East Coast premiere, he went in for a routine check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After nearly 20 years of living in the United States, he was used to check-in protocol, but things quickly took a turn for the worst.
Rojas realized that not only was he going to miss the premiere of The Infiltrators at the Miami Film Festival but was in serious risk of immediate deportation. He was detained by ICE officials on February 27, and is now being held in the Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade.
His immediate family is scrambling to set him free before it’s too late. “It’s been a complete nightmare for my family,” said his eldest son Emiliano Rojas on a call with Remezcla.
Emiliano’s mother Liliana worries for her husband’s future. Liliana and Claudio have been together since they were 13 years old and Liliana has never had to do anything without him by her side. Their youngest son David is living at home with them while juggling school and work. But his income isn’t enough to pay the bills.
Meanwhile, Emiliano and his wife are new parents to their three-week-old son. He hasn’t seen his father in person since the arrest. Always a hard worker and humble man, Claudio has dedicated his life to his family and doesn’t want them to see him in his current state. “We speak on the phone almost every day. He’s calm and collected. We only speak for minutes at a time because other people need time to talk to their families as well and he doesn’t want to hold up the line,” Emiliano said.
The family, filmmakers, and lawyers working the case believe Claudio’s arrest may be directly linked to his participation in the film.
Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra’s Sundance Film Festival award-winning docufiction hybrid centers around radical DREAMers who get detained by immigration agents, on purpose, serving as a Trojan horse to attack injustice from inside an immigration detention center.
The undocumented youth intended to help Claudio (played by Manuel Uriza in the scripted segments) and infiltrate Broward Transitional Center in Florida by sending member Marco Saavedra inside to gather intelligence, spread information to other immigrant detainees and coordinate a plan to free them, all while harnessing legal avenues in their favor.
The directors used re-enactments when needed to tell their story because filming is prohibited inside detention centers. They recreated the Broward center based on witness testimony from Claudio and two other detainees.
Rivera pointed to similar cases such as 21 Savage, a rapper who was released from ICE custody on February 13 and had attempted to apply for a new visa before his arrest. His arrest is also thought to be pre-meditated and linked to his political activism.
“[Claudio’s] legal team believes it is retaliation. Apparently, the officers who detained him explained the orders came from higher up the chain of command. He has a pending T-visa, which is an application for people who are victims of trafficking and labor violations,” Rivera said. “He has this application open where he’s basically trying to cooperate with the government and in exchange there’s a visa. It’s strange timing.”
Emiliano said Claudio discussed the potential consequences of participating in such a film with the family but they ultimately supported his decision. “We figured if he advocated for immigrant rights in such a public way that the government wouldn’t bother him, but it looks like that may have actually backfired,” Emiliano said. “In spite of that, we decided it would be good for him to participate in the film because he could help other immigrants and inspire them to not be afraid and fight for their rights.”
But if immigrants like 21 Savage and Claudio speak up and face retaliation what hope and voice do lesser-known immigrants have?
The Infiltrators team recently faced another hurdle when Miami Film Festival staff recused itself from introducing the documentary and moderating the post-screening Q&A session claiming it could appear the festival was taking a political stance. Rivera said staff explained that having Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s (D-FL) Chief of Staff present could be perceived as the festival taking a political side. The filmmakers went ahead and moderated the Q&A on their own in an unofficial capacity so that the Chief of Staff could stay and participate.
After social media uproar, the festival’s leadership made a public apology and assured that their staff would introduce the movie and lead the Q&A following an even bigger screening planned for on March 6. “I personally believe they really have been supporting the film and that this is not a pattern,” Rivera said.
It’s a win in an otherwise tumultuous week. “It both scares us and makes us more determined. We believe nothing in our society changes without a fight,” Rivera said of Claudio’s ordeal. “The Infiltrators is a harrowing story of risk and danger but also of triumph.”