Claudio Rojas is sitting in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, quite likely for political reasons. Rojas, an Argentine immigrant, was detained by ICE and later reported on conditions inside the Broward Transitional Center, a for-profit ICE detention facility in Pompano Beach run by the Boca Raton corporation GEO Group. Rojas' actions are the subject of a new documentary, The Infiltrators, which was set to screen last night at the Miami Film Festival.
Just before the screening, ICE detained Rojas once again in what he claims is an act of political persecution. The festival shared articles about Rojas' arrest. But when the film's producers and director showed up last night to show their entry, they realized something was amiss — the festival had suddenly refused to announce the documentary and declined to host a Q&A session afterward, as is the tradition at many film festivals around the globe. It did allow the film to show at the Silverspot Cinema downtown.
Angered, one of the film's producers, Darren Dean, castigated festival organizers on social media for, basically, being cowards, especially when one of the very subjects of the film has become a political prisoner.
"Here’s a new one - tonight for our Infiltrators Q&A, the Miami Film Festival 'recused' themselves from introducing our film and moderating our Q&A," he wrote. "Claimed they did not want to 'appear to be taking a side' on the issue or 'to take a political stance.'" He added, "Silence IS a political act - perhaps the most dangerous one."
Reached by phone, Dean — best known for producing Tangerine, The Florida Project, and other films — explained that he and his crew had brought staff members for Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell along with them in the audience. But five minutes before the film was set to screen, festival reps showed up and told Dean that the organization needed to "recuse itself" from anything involving the movie. The filmmakers themselves were then left to announce, screen, and discuss the film. Dean said the festival didn't duck away from the movie because of the congresswoman's involvement but purely due to the content of the film. He said multiple festival employees told him that word had come from "on high" that festival employees were not supposed to associate themselves with the film.
"I’ve been around the world, even in countries that you would not suspect to be open about stuff like this, and, frankly, I've never experienced this before," Dean said. "And I don't think it's a coincidence that this is a film that is set in the Miami-Dade area."
Dean said he eventually took the stage and told the audience that the festival refused to stand by the movie. Some people in the crowd booed.
The festival immediately backpedaled and issued a public apology online yesterday after the showing:
Earlier today, Dean posted new comments online thanking the festival for, basically, backtracking on backtracking. But he told New Times he thought the apology was incomplete and misleading.
"I know there are other people involved here," he said. "And there is still some misinformation going around, such as the fact that the person who got 'cold feet' was not a 'low-level festival employee' but a fellow filmmaker, and she didn’t get 'cold feet'; she was just told not to go onstage."
Miami Dade College organizes the annual festival. A college spokesperson, Juan Mendieta, told New Times the incident "was the result of a junior festival member who communicated an incorrect message. The festival has apologized in person to Darren and the two filmmakers and also posted an apology. There is another screening tonight."
Earlier this week, the Miami Herald reported that ICE had suddenly detained Rojas just after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. As of Sunday, Rojas was being held at the Krome Service Processing Center in Southwest Miami-Dade. Though ICE refused to comment on the case, Rojas' friends and colleagues believe he was detained for speaking out against the agency.
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“They called Claudio’s name, and then three agents just grabbed him,” Rojas' lawyer, Sandy Pineda, told the Herald over the weekend. “He has no criminal record. They did not allow us any due process, did not allow his attorneys to talk to him, and took away his passport. They told us we had nothing to say to him and that his order for arrest came from the higher-ups. It’s grotesque.”
Notably, this is neither the first time activists have infiltrated the Broward Transitional Center nor the first time ICE has been accused of detaining critics. Last year, ICE arrested Manuel Duran, an immigrant journalist living in Memphis, in what he says was an act of retaliation for reporting critically about the agency. Duran remains in immigrant detention and could still face deportation. And earlier today, the Nation reported on documents showing that ICE monitored left-leaning protesters in New York City, including activists who were organizing to rally against local white-nationalist groups.
Rojas, meanwhile, remains in ICE detention. In response, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a nonprofit that helped him sneak into the ICE facility, has circulated a petition begging federal lawmakers to intervene on his behalf. More than 1,200 people have signed it so far.
"It's important to have moderators say, 'We programmed this film; we stand by this film,' and we didn’t have that," Dean said. He later added, "I don’t want this to happen again to our film or anyone else’s. Don’t suddenly become afraid when you're about to show something controversial. Silence is very much an opinion as well."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that U.S. Rep Debbie Mucarsel Powell attended the screening.