BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. authorities have released a Cuban migrant who was detained shortly after an immigration judge granted him asylum last week, the man told Border Report on Monday.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials decided to detain Rainer “Ray” Rodriguez while the federal government weighed whether to appeal the asylum ruling. The 35-year-old, who is now in South Texas, said he was put in a holding pod with about 100 other migrant men last week in a detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas.
The detention took Rodriguez by surprise and he said he had no idea where he was being sent when he boarded a Border Patrol bus after his court hearing at the judicial tent court city in Brownsville.
“They took the visitors out and then they put me in a different holding area and we were never told anything. And then I was put in a Border Patrol bus and taken to Port Isabel,” Rodriguez said via phone on Monday afternoon. “I didn’t know until I got to the actual facility where I was.”
On Wednesday, Rodriguez became one of the rare few migrants to be granted asylum by a U.S. immigration judge. A report last month by the San Diego Union-Tribune found that less than 0.01% of MPPs along the Southwest border are actually granted asylum — that was just 12 out of 47,000 cases studied in 2019.
But his joy quickly was overshadowed when he found himself locked in a cell with about 100 other migrant men.
Border Report wrote about his detention but withheld his name at the request of his lawyer who feared it would affect his case while he was detained. On Monday, Rodriguez spoke openly about what transpired after court, allowed his name to be used and explained his happiness at being free.
Free 5-minute phone call
Rodriguez said he was allowed a free 5-minute phone call when he got to the detention facility, but it was already 1 a.m. and too late to call anyone. So it wasn’t until the next morning that any of his friends or others in the camp knew where he was.
He said the detention facility was clean, the guards were cordial and he was given toiletry items. “It’s organized. It was clean. I was afraid of the whole no-shower thing but they gave me a toothbrush and soap. The guards were not mean,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s still a prison.”
In his cell, he saw other migrants from the tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico, and men with whom he had waited on the bridge starting at 4 a.m. the day before. Customs and Border Protection requires that migrants report to the bridge four hours early for an 8 a.m. court appearance to be screened for health issues, lice and their court documents checked.
Rodriguez had been waiting in Mexico since May 12 — he spent eight months living in various hotels and crammed in apartments with other migrants in the northern Mexico border city.
News of Rodriguez’s detention went viral on social media because he became a popular fixture in the refugee camp, where he worked at the Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, which offers free classes to migrant children living in the camp. He also frequently helped out at the offices of the Resource Center for Asylum Seekers in Mexico, a Matamoros-based nonprofit that assists the migrants.
The number of migrants at the camp at the base of the Gateway International Bridge quadrupled last summer when the Trump administration in mid-July implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which requires migrants like Rodriguez to wait in Mexico during their U.S. asylum proceedings.
It was at the camp, where 2,500 asylum-seekers currently live, that Rodriguez befriended Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, the sidewalk school director who became one of his fiercest allies. She’s the one who kept the social media world aware of every one of his court hearings and of his dramatic detention last Wednesday.
After he was released this weekend, his friends threw a dinner party for him on Saturday night. On Sunday, he celebrated at the beach, he said.
“It is all very surreal,” Rodriguez said of the comforts of going to a beach that has geographically been so close, yet literally a country apart. “It’s so close and it’s so depressing. I’m still getting used to everything. It’s taking me a little time to adjust.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.
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