a man holds a sign: "Return our neighbors to their families
Attendees of a rally a Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael in support of detained undocumented men Hugo Mejia and Rodrigo Nunez, May 2017 (Screenshot/ABC 7 News)

Marin synagogue hosts rally to free man facing deportation

Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael and other Marin County community groups are joining with Rep. Jared Huffman to seek a court hearing for Hugo Mejia, a longtime local resident and father who faces deportation after being detained by federal immigration officers.

Hugo Mejia smiling with a woman
Hugo Mejia (right)

Mejia, 37, a construction worker who installs drywall, has three children attending public schools in San Rafael. The oldest, who is in 11th grade, has volunteered helping with homeless families at the synagogue for the past two years.

Supporters say Mejia, who was caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally in 2001, has no criminal record. At a May 15 rally at Rodef Sholom, the congressman pointed out that President Donald Trump said during his campaign that he was interested in “getting bad dudes out of the country.”

“But now we know otherwise,” said Huffman (D-San Rafael), “because Hugo Mejia is by all accounts a very, very good dude.”

Mejia and co-worker Rodrigo Nuñez of Hayward, both natives of Mexico, are being held at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, near Sacramento.

When Rodef Sholom Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown visited Mejia in prison on May 8, “It was just so clear that he didn’t belong there at all,” she told J. “He has never been involved in any criminal activity in his life. He shared with me that this experience is a complete 180 from his day-to-day life as a devoted husband, father, family man, community member and loyal employee.”

Mejia and Nuñez were taken into custody on May 3 when they reported to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield to start a new work assignment. After showing their California driver’s licenses to gain admittance, they were taken aside by military officials and then turned over to ICE.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Why me?’ ” Mejia told the Mercury News in Spanish during a phone interview from prison. “I’ve never done anything to anyone.”

Supporters are asking that Mejia not be deported and be given a court hearing. At the rally this week at Rodef Sholom, where Mejia’s wife, Yadira Munguia, tearfully thanked supporters, cries of “Free Hugo now!” came from the crowd estimated at 550 people.

“Hugo is a totally upstanding member of this community,” said Jessica Marker of the Venetia Valley Family Center, which is organizing support for Mejia and his family. The center is located across the street from the synagogue.

Marker, who is a Rodef Sholom congregant, said an immigration officer put a removal order on Mejia’s file in 2001, which ICE agents used to detain him, subjecting him to expedited deportation without benefit of a hearing.

“We are asking ICE to not move forward with this reinstatement process,” the Venetia Valley School Community said in a statement after being alerted to Mejia’s plight by Rosen-Brown. “We want ICE to use their discretion and allow Hugo to claim his constitutional right to have his case heard in front of a judge.”

The effort to support Mejia comes as members of Rodef Sholom have spent several months discussing whether to make the synagogue a sanctuary congregation. Rodef Sholom belongs to the Union for Reform Judaism, a national organization that has encouraged its member congregations to consider offering sanctuary and support to undocumented immigrants.

After working with the Venetia Valley Family Center, the synagogue board approved becoming a sanctuary in April. Rodef Sholom will not provide shelter, but is committed to joining mobilization efforts supporting immigrants’ rights.

“We have had a team working on what sanctuary means to our congregation,” Rosen-Brown said, “with the hope and prayer that there would be no local deportation cases around which we would have to mobilize.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.