Upfront: Local Outrage
By Tom Gogola
Monday, May 15 was Immigrant Day in California, but somebody forgot to tell U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as the federal administration continues with its deportation frenzy, despite the consequences for families and individuals caught up in the rolling sweep of the undocumented.
The latest and most recent outrage involves two Mexican nationals—Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nuñez—who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, worked at a government defense job in Fairfield and got caught up in the undocumented sweep sanctioned by Sessions and carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and snitch-crazed American citizens on the ground.
Mejia is a San Rafael resident with a spotless criminal record and long-standing community ties. One of his children is celebrating their confirmation this weekend, but Mejia likely won’t be attending. He, along with Nuñez, is locked up in an ICE facility, awaiting expedited deportation after getting sent there on May 3.
Marin County residents gathered at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael on Monday to celebrate Immigrant Day and to show public support behind a petition drive to demand that Mejia get a hearing and not be subjected to expedited deportation. His wife addressed the crowd, as did his former employer.
“We’re trying to get him some due process,” says San Rafael Congressman Jared Huffman, who attended the Monday protest.
In an interview in advance of the event, Huffman described Mejia, a father of three, as a “perfectly honorable upstanding citizen” who was arrested at his workplace after an identity check revealed that he was a non-citizen. “That’s what is so scary about this one,” Huffman says, given “all these reassurances that this would be focused on criminals—this puts the lie to that.”
An in-depth story on Mejia and Nuñez (from Hayward) appeared last week in the Mercury News, where the comment sections were running largely in favor of a cruel outcome for the “illegal alien” Mejia. The Mercury News reported that the 37-year-old, who worked for an area contractor, had reported to a construction job at Travis Air Force Base on May 3, but never came home. Reporter Tatiana Sanchez was able to interview Mejia from the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, where he said, “I’ve been here for 17 years and my record is excellent. I’ve never done anything to anyone. My bills are paid on time, I have a clean record, we’ve never asked the government for help.”
Despite the reams of anonymous anti-immigrant comments, Huffman says that public support is running very high for Mejia in his district. Huffman says that he’s been sharing notes with other congressmen as lawmakers try to sort through an opaque administration that keeps moving the goalposts on the immigration crackdown.
Mejia, who was still locked up as this paper went to press on Tuesday afternoon, is hoping that public pressure and a petition for his release will persuade ICE to release him and not tear a family apart for no good reason. A grassroots petition has generated thousands of signatures in Mejia’s favor, and in a statement, Huffman’s office notes that “the letters show Mr. Mejia has been an exemplary father, neighbor, employee, member of the community, and also include countless stories demonstrating his commitment to family, education, and friends.”
“The real significance of this case beyond the compelling drama that is creating so much support in my district is that if this gentleman can be caught in a sting, summarily arrested and deported without any due process, it’s hard to imagine any undocumented immigrant—that’s 12 million people—being safe,” Huffman says. “That is sort of a nightmare scenario. I’m hopeful that somewhere in this administration someone has a brain and a heart, and is willing to take a look at this and reconsider.”