As It Happens

ICE detains activist who starred in documentary exposing for-profit detention centre

The star of a documentary exposing alleged injustices at an immigrant detention centre has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Claudio Rojas's son says father was locked up 'out of nowhere' after The Infiltrator premiered at Sundance

Claudio Rojas, an undocumented Argentine immigrant who appeared in the documentary, The Infiltrators, has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (The Infiltrators )


The star of a documentary exposing alleged injustices at an immigrant detention centre in Pompano Beach, Fla., has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Claudio Rojas was arrested Wednesday during a check-up with immigration authorities, a week before the Florida premiere of the documentary The Infiltrators, for which he was a major source. He's being held at the Krome detention centre in South Miami-Dade, Fla.

"I mean, we're not 100 per cent sure, but we think that it was because of the film," his son Emiliano Rojas told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"It was so weird that nothing happened, and then now that the film came out, you know, he's being detained out of nowhere."

Claudio is one of several prominent immigrant activists targeted by ICE in recent months, reports the Washington Post, in what advocates say is an effort to deter undocumented people from speaking out.

ICE declined As It Happens' request for comment.

The Infiltrators centres around two undocumented immigrants who purposefully got themselves arrested and sent to a for-profit immigration detention centre in Florida in order to expose alleged wrongdoing.

And it all began with Claudio.

The Argentine immigrant first arrived in the United States on a 90-day visa in 2000. He now lives in Miramar, Fla., where he has a wife, two adult children, and a newborn grandson. 

Claudio Rojasis pictured with his grandson just a few weeks before he was detained by ICE agents. (Submitted by Emiliano Rojas)

In 2012, Claudio was arrested for overstaying his visa and detained at the Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit detention centre for non-violent immigrants. 

He had no criminal record at the time, and his lawyer believed he was eligible for release under an Obama-era directive for ICE agents to focus their efforts on detaining immigrants with criminal records or who pose a risk to the public.

As Claudio got to know his fellow detainees, he realized many of them were in the same boat.

So he started collecting detailed stories from people he believed should be released under the Obama directive and leaking that information to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, an immigrant rights group. 

Claudio Rojas on the set of The Infiltrators with actors who portayed some of his experiences at the Broward Transitional Center. (The Infiltrators )

"He was helping the activists to get information about other cases to help other detainees there and try to get them out," Emiliano said.

"Because they don't follow the rules. They don't care about anything else. They just wanted to deport you. So we were trying to expose them."

Visa application pending 

The Alliance decided to send two of its organizers, undocumented immigrants Marco Saavedra and Viridiana Martinez, to infiltrate the centre and gather more evidence with Claudio's help.

They believe their efforts led to the release of dozens of detainees — a claim ICE denies. 

"They were trying to help everybody, as many people as they can, from the inside,"  Emiliano  said. "And my dad it was part of that."

From left to right, Claudio Rojas and his two sons, David Rojas and Emiliano Rojas. (Submitted by Emiliano Rojas)

The Infiltrators premiered at Sundance in late January and is due to play at the Miami Film Festival on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Claudio​ had planned to attend the Miami premiere with his family, but now he's behind bars facing possible deportation.

His lawyer, Sandy Pineda, says he was the midst of applying for a T visa for victims of human or labour trafficking when he was detained.

She said she has confirmation that his application has been received and his case is pending. 

But Claudio has a removal order on his file, she said. And if he's deported, he won't be able to pursue the T visa. 

"I just want this to finish. This is too much," Emiliano said.

"I mean, I know my dad is being affected emotionally a lot, you know. And we came to this country to look for a better future, but it's been a nightmare so far."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.