Community rallies around New London father slated for deportation

New London — Julian Rodriguez, the New London father targeted for deportation by federal immigration officials, made a public plea on Monday for continued support of his family.

“I am not a bad person,” Rodriguez said through a translator during a spirited rally that drew more than 250 supporters to Parade Plaza in the center of the city.

Rodriguez, who first came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2000, is slated to board a Sept. 12 flight back to his native Colombia as ordered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

With anxiety in his family and the community building, supporters showed up Monday waving signs celebrating diversity and denouncing federal policies that have led to the separation of undocumented immigrant families.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” read one banner that was unfurled in front of Rodriguez, his longtime partner, Diana Cortes, and their 14-year-old son, Santiago.

Santiago called his father a hard-working man trying to make a living to support his family.

“He is the one keeping us together,” Santiago said.

Monday’s rally was highlighted by music and speeches, all translated into Spanish, from a mix of political and religious leaders.

“Losing any member of this family will diminish the fabric of this community,” said Anne Tortora, pastoral associate at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. “We are demanding mercy and justice for this man.”

Mayor Michael Passero said that few in New London are not the descendants of immigrants.

“The city’s strength is in our ethnic and cultural diversity. I’m proud to stand with Julian and his family,” Passero said.

It remains unclear whether public support alone will help Rodriguez’s plight. Glenn Formica, Rodriguez’s attorney, said there were few short-term legal remedies to keep Rodriguez in the country without a change of heart by ICE.

“An immigration officer needs to make a decision for a stay of removal,” Formica said. “We need someone at ICE to see this for what it is — an act of humanity.”

Formica said he is not sure what triggered attention by ICE in the first place, but if Rodriguez leaves he will be subject to a 10-year ban from returning to the U.S. Both Rodriguez and Cortes had tried unsuccessfully to get asylum in the U.S. to escape violence in Colombia.

Rodriguez has been issued a stay of removal on multiple occasions since 2009 in part because of his son’s sickness and participation in studies with the National Institutes of Health. Santiago was born in the U.S. in 2003 and is an American citizen.

When Santiago was 6 he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, chronic granulomatous. He later underwent an experimental bone marrow transplant. He now contributes to studies with the National Institutes of Health, which potentially “benefit the whole nation,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement earlier this month.

Sue Goldstein, an English language teacher and bilingual coach at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School in New London, said Santiago is a former student at the school. She said Santiago’s parents wanted the very best for their son.

“They are the nicest, kindest hard-working people. These are the kind of people you want in the United States,” she said.

Rodriguez thanked the crowd at Monday’s rally.

“You make us feel secure that we still have good people in the world,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “I came here (for) an opportunity to give my family a better life. Now I find myself in this dark tunnel.”

g.smith@theday.com

 

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