BOSTON — Francisco Rodriguez-Guardado's first son was born just days after he was taken into custody by federal immigration officials for deportation back to his native El Salvador. He has yet to meet his son but is told there's a resemblance.
“They tell me he has my eyes,” the 43-year-old said with a mix of wistfulness and pride this month in an interview at the Suffolk County House of Corrections.
Rodriguez-Guardado, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology janitor whose case became a rallying cry for local opponents of President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown this summer, awaits his fate in the Boston jail.
His supporters say his case and others like it highlight how the Republican administration's crackdown on illegal immigration has swept up not just hardened criminals — the “bad hombres” Trump frequently railed against on the campaign trail — but also otherwise law abiding, contributing members of American society.
Arrests of immigrants in the country illegally have increased about 37 percent, from about 55,000 during the first six months of last year to 75,000 in the first half of this year, according to data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Of those, non-criminal immigrants made up nearly 20,000 of all arrests, a 145 percent increase from the first half of last year.
Among the emblematic cases is that of Roberto Beristain, a restaurant owner in Granger, Indiana, who was deported to Mexico in April after reporting to the local ICE office as requested. He was separated from his wife and children, all U.S. citizens, after living in the country for 20 years.
And in Oakland, California, last month, Eusebio and Maria Sanchez were forced to return to their native Mexico after immigration officials denied their request to remain in the U.S. They took back with them their 12-year-old American-born son but left three older American-born daughters to care for themselves in the family home.
Like those examples, Rodriguez-Guardado did not have a criminal record and was a known commodity, volunteering at his church and his children's school and even running his own carpet cleaning business, argue his supporters, who include his labor union, the faculty at MIT and prominent politicians such as U.S. Sens Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats.
“There was simply no need for detention,” said Adriana Lafaille, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed legal briefs in support of Rodriguez-Guardado. “This is someone who complied with everything the federal government asked him to do.”
But Jessica Vaughan, a director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more restrictive immigration policies, countered that Rodriguez-Guardado shouldn't be allowed to remain in the country because he had been granted “multiple opportunities” to resolve his legal status over the years.
“I am sure this is hard on his family, but this situation is a result of his choice to come to the United States illegally,” Vaughan said. “It is not fair to the millions of people who qualify for legal immigration who pay their fees and wait in line.”
Rodriguez-Guardado entered the U.S. illegally in 2006, was denied asylum in 2009 and had a subsequent appeal rejected in 2011. In June, ICE officials declined to renew the temporary authorizations that allowed him to remain in the country and ordered him to make travel arrangements back to El Salvador.
Rodriguez-Guardado was arrested July 13 because the plane ticket he booked wasn't “timely,” ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said. Rodriguez-Guardado's lawyer Matthew Cameron maintains the agency never specified a deadline, so his client booked the flight for after his son's expected birth date.
Cameron is asking the federal Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen Rodriguez-Guardado's asylum case. He has sued ICE in federal court, accusing the agency of unlawful arrest and seeking his client's release, at least until the asylum question is resolved.
Rodriguez-Guardado said it's unclear how much longer he'll be in jail.
“I feel like I've been here a year,” he said as he sat in a family meeting room in his white jail-issued jumpsuit. “I'm not angry, but sometimes it gets frustrating. You don't know what's going on. You don't know when you'll get out.”
Rodriguez-Guardado said his Christian faith has prepared him to accept what comes next. He has joined an inmate prayer group and passes time by reading the Bible. His pastor has visited, stressing how God has a plan for everyone, even if it's not always obvious.
“We follow what God wants for us,” Rodriguez-Guardado said. “If they want to move us from here, it's because there is something better for us someplace else.”
If he's not allowed to stay, Rodriguez-Guardado said, he has weighed moving to Canada or Costa Rica. He is unconvinced El Salvador, where he had been a technician at an engineering firm and owned a car wash in the capital, San Salvador, is any better off than when he fled following the killing of a work colleague at the hands of a gang member.
“Believe me,” he said, “if El Salvador was a safe and peaceful country, I would have never thought of coming here.”