Westchester synagogue rallies in support of custodian facing deportation

MT. KISCO, N.Y. -- Westchester County synagogue members are rallying behind their custodian who is an undocumented immigrant and sits in an upstate jail awaiting an immigration hearing.

"Armando in every sense he was one of the good guys. He is one of the good guys," Bet Torah president Carol Siege said.

Pictures of Armando Rojas are plastered all over the Mt. Kisco synagogue. He worked as a custodian there for 20 years. The community was devastated to learn that last February as he ate at a restaurant with his family, a fight broke out. He was swept up in it and but according to his attorney he was exonerated.

Still, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was called.

Rojas crossed illegally about 30 years ago. And ICE records show he had a deportation order from 25 years ago but never left.

ICE said, "... his voluntary departure order became a final order of removal, and he became an ICE fugitive."

Weeks after Rojas was taken into custody, he was sent back to Mexico.

"Essentially we have taken a father and an earner out of a family and destabilized them socially and economically," Rabbi Aaron Brusso said.

This has been heartbreaking for the Mt. Kisco synagogue and Rojas' family. The oldest of his two sons joined synagogue members last spring on missions to bring him home.

They walked Rojas from Tijuana back over the border so he could claim asylum.

On the second try it worked. Now he is waiting for a hearing near Albany.

According to Rojas' lawyer, a judge will rule whether he has credible fear, meaning his life will be in danger if he goes back to Mexico.

Rabbi Brusso said when Rojas was back with family in Mexico this past summer, he received threatening calls. He came to the United States decades ago after family members were murdered.

Carola Bracco, the executive director of Neighbors Link, an organization that helps undocumented immigrants, said Armando Rojas is not alone in this struggle.

"It's extremely common. So we see that, many cases where people are seeking asylum in this country. And have a very credible fear, really a gut wrenching fear of returning to their own country," Bracco said.

At the next hearing, a judge is expected to decide whether Rojas can continue his asylum claim or he will be sent back to Mexico.

Tuesday evening, Bet Torah had planned a candlelight vigil and rally to support Armando Rojas.