His uncertain future
When Rodriguez was pulled over for speeding (he had been driving so he could help Wilbanks pick up another vehicle from a mechanic), it was his first brush with the law, but he didn’t immediately worry about what might be ahead.
Instead, that came with time at the jail, as his stay got longer and longer. He was processed into the inmate population — a scary experience, he said, particularly for an 18-year-old among older inmates — and went to sleep on the floor because he entered the four-person cell late, when bunks were already claimed by sleeping inmates or their stored materials.
He was out the next afternoon, but received a Notice to Appear, the first step “In removal proceedings under section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” The paperwork also notified Rodriguez of the Department of Homeland Security’s charges that he was present illegally, and that he would be “subject to removal from the United States.”
Rodriguez made his first appearance at Immigration Court (overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review) in Atlanta on May 3, accompanied by Southeast guidance counselor Chris Anderson and Principal Brian Satterfield, who was also Rodriguez’s principal at Valley Point Elementary and Eastbrook Middle. The two came to offer moral support, but the straightforward hearing resulted in little more than a notice of his next court date, July 21, and a reminder that he could seek legal counsel.
After meeting with several attorneys, Rodriguez finally settled on Atlanta lawyer Peter Hill. While Hill declined to be interviewed for this story, a blog listing on his website details an immigration case in which he obtained citizenship for a foreign-born woman whose parents brought her to the United States before she was 2. Successes like that give Rodriguez and his family hope that he may not be deported, but Rodriguez is far less optimistic than his brothers or mother, who wants him to get a college education in the United States.
Rodriguez has spoken with wrestling coaches at Shorter College about studying and competing there, but doesn’t know if he’ll even be around in the fall.
“I mean, a miracle can happen,” he said. “But the reality is there’s nothing you can really do.”
And Rodriguez said he knows he has little on his side legally. He doesn’t deny that he is here illegally. He doesn’t deny any of the things that he was charged with on April 20 that led to his arrest and put him on ICE’s radar, or that driving was a bad decision. (He paid $196 in fines for speeding and operating a vehicle without a decal, but his charge for unlicensed driving was dismissed in Probate Court.)
But he said he has trouble understanding why after so many years here illegally, when he was welcomed by teachers and administrators and coaches — several of whom have written character letters of support for him — he has to deal with the feeling of being pushed out. He is frustrated that immigration enforcement, lax for so many years, has become a hot topic and a must-do for some public officials. And he also believes there are more illegal aliens than people expect, guessing that half of the Hispanic students at Southeast are not here legally.
Rodriguez believes the fact that he identifies himself as an American, and that he has grown up here, should make a difference. He knows the U.S. national anthem and the pledge to the American flag, not Mexico’s, he said. He found a place on the football field, but is horrible at soccer, he argues. His Spanish is weak and criticized by his mother. His accent leans toward Southern, if anything.
“I wish that was good enough,” he said.
Quinn, under whose roof Rodriguez spent so many years of his adolescence, feels frustrated because she tried several times over the years — long before the arrest — to find out what options Rodriguez might have. She met with a local immigration attorney, but was unable to make any progress. Now, she joins Rodriguez, his family and his friends in their collective frustration.
“At this point we feel very helpless, but we will stand with him in front of immigration and plea for a very young, innocent life,” Quinn said. “And this falls upon a young man who never asked to come here, but yet this is all he knows.”
Rodriguez is dealing with the confusion that many in any court system for the first time face, and he’s unclear about what exactly will happen at his next appearance in Atlanta.
He also doesn’t know what he’ll do if deported, but he knows he won’t go back to Torreon, where he has almost no family left and violent crime is a major concern, he said. His mother has the memory of a 14-year-old girl who was raped there, but police corruption meant nothing happened to the accused. And Torreon is among the many cities that have become stained by Mexico’s bloody drug wars, with a Christian Science Monitor story earlier this month detailing a gang attack on a drug rehab facility earlier that left 13 patients and workers dead.
Even if deported, Rodriguez hopes to find a way to come back and stay legally.
But he freely admits he’d rather just stay.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You just have to wait, hope and pray. That’s all you can do.”