The undocumented Mount Kisco synagogue custodian who had been detained by authorities and faced deportation to his native Mexico received one of the best holiday gifts he could have hoped for – the day after Christmas.
Armando Rojas, who in November lost his bid for asylum in an upstate immigration court proceeding, was released from custody on Dec. 26 and arrived home to Mount Kisco two days later.
Rabbi Aaron Brusso of Bet Torah, where Rojas had worked for about 20 years before he was picked up by authorities last winter, outlined the sudden turn of events last week in a Facebook post. Brusso wrote that Rojas is now being granted a full asylum hearing based on a decision by a Washington, D.C. federal circuit court judge.
On Dec. 17, in the case Grace v. Whitaker, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett G. Sullivan struck down former attorney general Jeff Sessions’ redefinition of asylum. It was the narrower interpretation of asylum that resulted in the denial of Rojas’ claim that he feared for his life because of violence in his former community in Mexico if he returned, according to Brusso. As a result, attorneys working on behalf of Rojas were able to file a request for review with the Department of Homeland Security.
“On Dec. 26, on the day he was due to be deported, we were informed that his deportation was rescinded and he was being granted a full asylum hearing,” Brusso stated.
He arrived home to his family on Dec. 28 where he was reunited with his wife and two sons, Brusso said. Rojas also met his infant grandson for the first time.
There is no date for when the full asylum hearing will be held, although it could be months from now, if not more than a year.
In February, Rojas was arrested and thrown out of the United States. Bet Torah members twice flew to San Diego to meet him in Tijuana. He was eventually readmitted into the United States but was taken into custody and held in New Mexico before being transferred to a facility in Albany.
Rojas came to the United States when he was 18 years old in 1986 and has lived in Mount Kisco for more than 20 years, where he has served as a custodian at Bet Torah, the synagogue on Smith Avenue.
In October, several hundred Mount Kisco residents and Bet Torah congregants and members of the local faith community held a vigil outside the synagogue on Rojas’ behalf. By early November, the Democratic caucus of the Board of Legislators wrote a letter to the two immigration judges that would decide his fate vouching for his character. A little more than two weeks later, Rojas lost his case and was scheduled to be deported.
A person can seek asylum to seek protection from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, being a member of a particular social group or political opinion, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Anyone seeking asylum has up to one year after arriving in the United States to apply.