Lots of people asked me, so I'll provide additional information about Serbando Rodriguez, the Honduran immigrant who faces deportation following his recent arrest by federal agents in Baltimore. Rodriguez, a barber and bicycle repairman in Highlandtown, was the subject of my Sunday column. Here are follow-up questions from readers, and some answers:
Why don't we know where his family is?
Rodriguez left his family for their safety when he was threatened by extortionate gangs in La Ceiba, Honduras, five years ago, during the height of violence in that troubled Central American country.
"If his family comes to the attention of the gangs that threatened Serbando, they could be at risk," says his attorney, Nick Katz, manager of legal services for CASA de Maryland. "In order to protect their safety, Serbando is not able to speak about where they are. But he is in communication with them and believes they are safe."
What was he doing out at 1 o'clock in the morning?
Rodriguez was arrested around 1 a.m. Feb. 9 after shopping with his girlfriend at a 24-hour pharmacy in Highlandtown. He was followed in his car by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who pulled him over. When Rodriguez could not produce a green card, he was arrested. He had been deported once, in 2012, but returned to the United States almost immediately. That's why ICE arrested him, and why he faces deportation again.
I should point out that Rodriguez could have faced a second deportation during the Obama administration. But his arrest came shortly after President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order calling for more aggressive efforts to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Rodriguez told Katz that one of the agents who arrested him specifically referenced Trump and his executive order.
If returning to Honduras was impossible for him, why didn't he ask for asylum?
"According to Serbando, he was not offered the opportunity to seek asylum when he first entered the U.S.," says Katz. "Customs and Border Patrol agents are supposed to inquire if someone has a fear of return to their country and, if they express a fear, give them what is called a 'credible fear interview,' the first step in the asylum process. It appears that Serbando was not given this opportunity, despite the fact that he expressed his fear of return to one of the CBP agents."
Now, Katz says, Rodriguez is not eligible for asylum. So he is asking for "withholding of removal," a narrow form of relief that would prevent him from being deported if he can show that he would be persecuted or face torture back Honduras.
So what happens now?
Rodriguez, who had no criminal record in Maryland, is in the Frederick County Detention Center. He had a long hearing by telephone Tuesday morning with an official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Katz appealed for "withholding of removal," and the CASA attorney expects a decision on whether the case proceeds to an immigration judge within the week.
What part of "illegal" don't you understand?
Readers pop this question every time I write about undocumented immigrants. It's a real discussion-stopper. In my book, it makes no sense to obsess about the "illegal" status of some 11 million undocumented residents of the United States. Why? Because deporting all of them is not only impractical but harmful for the nation's economy and the nation's soul.
For years, Congress has failed to fix our immigration laws, and among those who fought reform are some of the extreme conservatives advising Trump. Now the Trump administration intends to greatly expand the number of people deemed a priority for deportation, including people arrested for traffic violations. That strikes me as not only cruel, but counterproductive.
Under President Obama, the focus was on people who had recently crossed the border illegally or who posed a threat to national security or public safety. When someone was arrested for a crime, and found to be in the country without proper documentation, they were deported. Obama deported more than 2.5 million immigrants.
His successor apparently feels a need to top the Deporter-in-Chief. The expanded order Trump signed last month will cause more fear and uncertainty among a law-abiding undocumented population.
Instead of welcoming immigrants, like Rodriguez, who contribute to society, and instead of finding some way to get them on a path to citizenship — with an amnesty program like the one Ronald Reagan established 30 years ago — we will unleash more law enforcement to round them up, criminal or not.
The hysteria over undocumented workers is destructive for our country. With the retirement of baby boomers, economists and demographers say, the United States will be unable to reach the growth levels that Trump promises unless we continue to bring new workers into the country through immigration. Ramping up deportations when you're trying to ramp up productivity makes no sense.