“This is a time for us to come together,” Roxana Guajardo told her son jarocho class Monday evening at El Centro Cultural de Mexico’s new building in SanTana. The teacher wasn’t talking about the music class, but about the detention of fellow Centro volunteer Miguel Angel Rodriguez by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this month. “Sadly, we know this type of thing will be happening in the coming four years, or who know how long. We must be together to protect each other, but also raise funds for legal defense and take preventative measures.”
ICE’s detention of Rodriguez hits the award-winning nonprofit too close to home. El Centro Cultural de Mexico describes him as a student, volunteer and community leader with the group. He took ballet folklorico classes at the community space and helped out with Noche de Altares, SanTana’s massive Day of the Dead street festival organized by the Centro. The nonprofit recently launched a GoFundMe page tallying over a thousand dollars in just three days to fight his deportation. “Miguel Angel is a great example of a volunteer who participates in class and works with the Centro,” said Karen Sarabia, General Coordinator for Centro.
Graciela Hinojosa-Holguin, Rodriguez’s ballet folklorico teacher at the Centro, has known him for more than twenty years since teaching dance at Santa Ana College. “He’s my right and my left hand because he’s always eager to help,” she said. “He always helped people and as a person, you can count on him.”
But to la migra, Rodriguez is just another Mexican immigrant prioritized for removal under the Donald Trump administration. “Mr. Rodriguez was arrested April 11 by officers with one of U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Fugitive Operations teams,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice wrote in an email to the Weekly. “Department of Homeland Security databases indicate Mr. Rodriguez has a prior conviction for driving under the influence and was never lawfully admitted to the United States.”
Rodriguez’s last DUI conviction came in 2012 with a 60-day jail sentence and five years probation. Prior to that, he got another conviction for the same charge in 2004. ICE didn’t apprehend anyone else during its operation.
“He recognizes that he made those mistakes,” Hinojosa-Holguin said. “He was on his way to work on a Monday morning, but he forgot his wallet with his driver’s license. It’s very shocking what happened because I didn’t expect that.”
The arrest of Rodriguez comes three months after the Santa Ana city council passed an ordinance making it a “Sanctuary City.” An immigration official told CNN last month that ICE has begun targeting such cities across the nation with increased enforcement.
The ballet folklorico teacher recalls Rodriguez initiating the process of legalizing his status more than 10 years ago, even having his mother act as sponsor before she passed away. But now he’s scheduled to see an immigration judge within weeks while being held at the privately run Adelanto Detention Facility separated from his siblings. Supporters are raising funds and writing letters of recommendations before his court date.
“I hope they take into consideration that he really wants to do things the correct way,” Hinojosa-Holguin said. “He loves this country.”