MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A big crowd is expected Tuesday night for a rally at a synagogue in Westchester County to call for compassionate treatment of a long-time temple employee who faces deportation after breaking the law.
At Temple Bet Torah in Mount Kisco, signs of support for Armando Rojas were everywhere.
“Over the 20 years he’s worked here, he’s beloved!” congregation president Carol Siege told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.
The janitor came to the United States illegally 30 years ago — and now faces deportation to Mexico.
“We need to gather as a community, because a member of our communal family has been taken away,” Rabbi Aaron Brusso said.
Brusso has advocated for immigrants for several years, so this hits close to home.
“Every day I cry in the morning. It’s not my life. My life is New York. I live 30 years there,” Rojas said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement says Rojas, who is seen in a film produced by a member of the congregation, broke a 1993 agreement to leave the country voluntarily. A deportation order followed, but it was unenforced until recently.
Rojas was arrested in February following a scuffle at Veracruz Restaurant in White Plains. A display case was broken. The charge of criminal mischief was bargained down to disorderly conduct, which is a violation, not a criminal conviction.
But it put him on ICE’s radar. He’s now jailed in Albany, seeking asylum and claiming his life is in danger if he returns to Mexico.
“A couple members of his family were killed, from where he’s from,” Brusso said.
Rojas is married and has two sons, who are U.S. citizens.
Advocates say he’s an example of the Trump administration prioritizing immigration enforcement.
“A small number of years ago, someone like Armando, who had been living in this country for decades, had a family, contributing member of our community, he would be a low priority if not no priority at all,” said Carola Bracco of the community immigration group Neighbors Link.
On Facebook, some have posted, “He had 30 years to become a citizen,” and “Deport him — he’s here illegally — I support ICE.”
“But we also have a commitment in this country not to impose cruel and unusual punishment,” Brusso said.
The rabbi said Rojas has one last chance to convince a judge he deserves to stay in the country he considers home.
Privately, some members of the temple told CBS2 they’re torn. As much as they admire Rojas and feel for his family, they said he broke the law and there are consequences for doing that.