Emily Schnee, an associate professor of English at Kingsborough Community College, was one of the faculty activists who organized support for a student whose family was targeted by ICE.
Rodrigo remembers the morning of November 13 well. At around 5:45 am, there was a knock at his door. His stepfather opened it to see Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
ICE detained Rodrigo’s stepfather. Rodrigo, who was sleeping during this incident, woke up to see his mother dropping to the floor next to his bed saying, “They took him.”
“At that moment,” he told Clarion, “everything turned upside down.”
Rodrigo, a student at Kingsborough Community College (KCC), and his family began to worry about the consequences of his stepfather’s detention. Who would take care of of the family’s expenses? Could they find a lawyer to represent them in a case? Would his father be deported?
Seeking answers to these questions, Rodrigo, who asked that Clarion not use his full name, turned to advisors and professors at Kingsborough for help. He went to the offices of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) and International Studies – anyone he thought could provide some financial or legal help. He also visited Dominic Wetzel, who was his Introduction to Sociology professor.
Wetzel, a PSC delegate and an active member of the union’s legislative committee, felt shocked at the news about Rodrigo’s stepfather.
“When he came to me, he was freaked out,” Wetzel said. “I was freaked out too,” he added, saying he had never had a student approach him before about a family member being detained by ICE.
Wetzel offered what help he could. He extended the deadline on a paper, collected around $700 at a PSC delegate assembly, and assisted in creating a GoFundMe account for Rodrigo’s family, for whom Rodrigo’s stepfather was the main breadwinner. The GoFundMe drive has raised over $2,800 to date.
At home, Rodrigo began to assume a lot of responsibilities. He helped his mother pay the family’s bills and take care of both his younger brother and sister. He felt overwhelmed, but felt hopeful for his dad’s return.
The family received their first much-needed break when their landlord delayed the due date on their rent payment because Rodrigo’s stepfather had always paid the family’s rent on time.
Yet they still needed to find a lawyer to help represent his stepfather at his court hearing in December. Rodrigo’s girlfriend reached out to a friend in Boston, who offered to help the family for a reduced fee.
On the day of Rodrigo’s stepfather’s court hearing, family, friends, professors at Kingsborough and supporters of Rodrigo’s family attended the hearing hoping that Rodrigo’s stepfather would get a low bail and, possibly, a way home. They were relieved when the bail for Rodrigo’s stepfather was set at $2,500.
A few days later, Rodrigo and his family received a letter notifying them that the bail had been paid. Members of the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) of NYC, a group that helps undocumented families with legal advice and other resources, helped pay the bail.
As a result, his stepfather was able to go home. Delighted, Rodrigo and his family piled into their car to pick up his stepfather.
“The car was really cold, the heater wasn’t working and it was snowing really bad,” Rodrigo recalled. “But I got that warm feeling, knowing he’s coming back.”
“I recommended that Rodrigo and his mother visit the [NSC’s legal] clinic once his stepfather was detained by ICE to seek further information and assistance with his case,” said Emily Schnee, an associate professor of English and a volunteer translator with the NSC. “Volunteer immigration attorneys who work with the NSC consulted with the family about his stepfather’s case and made sure that all the legal advice he received from a private attorney was accurate.”
Schnee continued, “I attended his stepfather’s bail hearing as a supporter, though only family members were allowed into the judge’s chambers. It was very painful to see immigration detainees in bright orange prison garb being brought into the courtroom in shackles – given that their only crime was to come to the US as immigrants hoping to improve their lives. At the same time, it was wonderful to see Rodrigo’s family, his professors at KCC and the New Sanctuary Coalition accompaniment volunteers come out in support of his stepfather’s release.”
KCC faculty support in the Rodrigo’s family’s case is just one of many examples of activism since faculty and student groups at various CUNY campuses have organized to defend undocumented immigrants at CUNY following increased crackdowns since Donald Trump, who ran on a staunchly anti-immigrant platform, took office.
Rodrigo’s family still isn’t sure how or why ICE agents came to their door. Rodrigo’s stepfather returned home just in time for the holidays. On Christmas Eve, Rodrigo left his job early and ran home to find not just his stepfather, but his family, friends and girlfriend too. “We were very grateful to be together,” he said.
Rodrigo’s stepdad, who lost his job while being held by ICE, has already found another job thanks to a family friend. He has to attend another hearing to prove he should stay in the country, but he doesn’t have to return to an ICE facility in the interim.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo is preparing to graduate from Kingsborough this spring. He wants to attend Baruch College to study business management and accounting.
“We’re trying to build back to where we were. It’s going to take some time,” he said. “We’re happy we’re together again.”