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Star of immigration film says detention feels like reprisal

MIAMI (AP) — An Argentine immigrant said his most recent detention feels like retaliation for starring in a new award-winning documentary about a group that infiltrated a for-profit detention center to expose injustices.

Claudio Rojas called The Associated Press on Tuesday from an immigrant detention facility. He said he has been thinking about what could have prompted the detention, but he hasn't been given a specific reason.

"I just shared my story. I don't feel like I said anything attacking them," Rojas said, referring to immigration enforcement agents. "But I have reasons to believe that this was reprisal." Rojas, 53, said he sleeps on a cot in a place that looks like a military barrack with 160 other detainees. He was crushed because he wasn't going to be able to attend this week's premiere in Miami of "The Infiltrators," which won two awards at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. He hadn't been able to travel to Utah for the film festival because of conditions set by the prior detention for overstaying his visa, which inspired the making of the film back in 2012.

"I am hanging in there, but I never thought I would end up in detention again," he said. "We know this is all a process. We are hoping for the best and trust God more than anything." U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Nestor Yglesias said he could not comment on the case.

The Miami screening of the documentary on Tuesday night did not escape controversy. Two producers said Miami Film Festival employees told them they would not introduce the film and moderate a Q&A panel afterward because they did not want to appear to be taking a political stance.

"Silence is a political act — perhaps the most dangerous one," Darren Dean, who has produced movies including 2017's "The Florida Project" and 2015's "Tangerine," wrote on Facebook. The Miami Festival posted an apology on Facebook on Wednesday saying the incident "was an unfortunate misunderstanding and miscommunication" among personnel.

For the film, three activists got detained on purpose in 2012 to infiltrate the facility in Pompano Beach, Florida, find Rojas and document cases of others inside there. The purpose of the mission was to fight the claim by then-President Barack Obama that immigration enforcement focused on criminals. Many detained there had no criminal records.

Rojas' lawyer, Sandy Pineda, said the immigration agency asked her to file newspaper clippings of Rojas' activism in 2012. The Argentine was complying with a required periodic visit with government officials when he was detained last Wednesday .

Even though he has a pending visa application, Rojas was denied a request that allows certain immigrants who are in the country illegally to stay, and now faces deportation. Pineda said Rojas had applied for a T visa, which allows victims of human trafficking to live and work temporarily in the United States. The attorney would not comment on the visa application, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.

The nonprofit organization Dream Activist began collecting signatures Monday urging federal lawmakers to stop Rojas' deportation. His family and friends set up a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 for legal bills.

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