What seemed to be a simple trip to Mexico over winter break took a turn for the worse when 9-year-old Berkeley elementary school student Rodrigo Guzman realized he could not come back home.
The family discovered that they would not be allowed to return to the U.S. because they had failed to renew their visas. Worse yet, they would have to wait five years to apply for a visa to return.
“I took it really bad,” Rodrigo said. “I started to cry, and I couldn’t speak, and I was really scared.”
Rodrigo, who attended Jefferson Elementary, and his parents, Javier Guzman and Reyna Mayida, were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston.
In response, classmates and school parents have launched the “Bring Rodrigo Home!” campaign to push government officials to let the family return to Berkeley. The campaign includes an online petition, which has gained more than 500 signatures since Tuesday.
Humanitarian parole can be used to temporarily bring someone who may be inadmissible into the country based on a medical emergency or a large public outcry, according to parent Mable Yee, who is spearheading the campaign.
“Immigration is all of our problems,” Yee said. “My son loves to say that unless you’re a dinosaur, everyone is an immigrant.”
Rodrigo is currently staying at a relative’s house and attending school in Mexico but finds it difficult to call the place “home.”
“Home is a place where I really want to be, a place where I have my friends, a place where I have my family, a place where I’m not alone,” he said.
Likewise, classmates, friends and teachers have missed Rodrigo dearly.
“I was disappointed that he wasn’t back, and I was angry because they sent him back,” said Scott Kuwahara, Guzman’s friend who Skypes and plays Minecraft with him.
Barbara Wenger, Rodrigo’s fourth-grade teacher, was heartbroken to hear he would not be coming back. Wenger described Rodrigo as a natural leader who was quick to help peers and who, for fun, led Gangnam Style dances in class.
“He had a bright future here, and he has the potential to be the kind of future leader our country needs,” Wenger said in an email.
Rodrigo’s situation has since gained popular support in Berkeley, with City Council unanimously passing a request for humanitarian support for the Guzman family and sending letters to President Barack Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.
Last week, the Berkeley Unified School District Board also unanimously passed a similar resolution, encouraging federal legislators to enact a compassionate immigration policy.
“This connected civil rights in a way that no textbook could, but also from the point of fourth-graders, this is someone they’ve been with since kindergarten,” said School Board Director Karen Hemphill.
Lee also said she hopes to continue to fight for immigration policy that is fair and promotes longterm economic growth.
“Stories like Rodrigo’s are a reminder of the deficiencies of the current system and underscore the need for real, comprehensive immigration reform,” Lee said.
According to Yee, the campaign is hoping to increase media attention and will hold multiple events, including a trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the Guzman family’s return.
“I feel very thankful that they’re helping me in a big way,” Rodrigo said. “They’re doing this whole thing, such a big thing, just to get me back home.”