Rally held in San Rafael in support of deported undocumented man

A rally Monday in Marin County protested the deportation of a well-regarded family man, who has never been in trouble with the law.

His case, supporters say, show President Trump's immigration crackdown is reaching too far.

"Release Hugo now, release Hugo now!" chanted a few hundred people, in the courtyard at Rodef Sholom in San Rafael.

Synogogue leaders say 37-year-old Hugo Mejia has been an active volunteer in their programs and others in the Santa Venetia neighborhood.

Mejia's tearful wife Yadira thanked the crowd for their support, but admitted to KTVU she isn't eating or sleeping, because she is so worried about her spouse of 18 years.

"He's the best husband that God could have given me, " Yadira said, " and he's always working to have everything for his family."

The drywall foreman, and father of three, has been locked up almost two weeks.

He left his San Rafael home for work on May 3 and didn't come back.

"Those are two of our best employees that we have. They work for us 24-7, weekends and nights, " their employer Steve Rossa told KTVU at the rally.

Rossa owns S & R Drywall in South San Francisco, and has employed Mejia and co-worker Rodrigo Nunez for several years. 

Rossa says job assignments come from a union hall, and that Mejia and Nunez were volunteered for a distant job at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, only to find themselves "punished".

When the workers showed their identification to enter the base, to perform drywall construction in a hospital, they came up in the system as undocumented.

"Something went wrong, they were handcuffed and taken away," said Rossa, "and their vehicles were left on the job site, they couldn't call their wives and couldn't call us. We were all pretty sickened at what happened. "

The family's attorney fears Mejia will be deported in an expedited fashion, with no hearing, because there is a removal order on the books from many years ago, when he was caught crossing the border from Mexico.   

"ICE should use its discretion, and look at the circumstance before re-using a deportation order, that's more than a decade old," declared  Alisa Whitfield of Centro Legal de la Raza, based in Oakland. 

In response to KTVU inquiries, ICE issued a statement in which is described the two workers as "foreign nationals attempting to gain entry to the military base."

It notes Mejia had been previously deported in 2001, and Nunez in 2001 and 2003.

It concludes "it will be up to a judge to determine whether they will be subject to removal" from the U.S. 

"My first feelings were absolute panic, this can't be happening, these children need their father," teacher Alexa Sakellariou told KTVU, as she helped lead the rally.

Sakellarious taught all of the Mejia children at Venetia Valley Elementary School. Two are now in high school. Their youngest son, Angel, is nine. The couple is well-known.

"Oh they're wonderful people. They are supportive, they volunteer, they are always looking for what they can do to make the school and the community a better place," said Sakellarious.

North Bay Congressman Jared Huffman is pressing ICE to give the men a hearing, calling anything else "inhumane" and not in line with the President's own stated positions on targeting criminals for deportation.

"Getting bad dudes out of the country, using his words," Rep. Huffman exclaimed to the crowd.

"But now we now otherwise because Hugo Mejia is by all accounts, a very, very good dude."

One of Mejia's oldest friends, who taught him the drywall trade almost two decades ago, has visited him in detention near Sacramento.

"He's like a criminal, talking through the glass," described Rudy del Toro, "and he's feeling really bad. It's his first time in jail, and he said "I'm afraid of everything inside here. Everybody is looking at me like, bad." 

But Mejia keeps his daily calls to his family, positive.

"He says 'tell our children to stay focused on their studies, to not worry, and everything is going to be well'," said wife, Yadira, who cleans houses for a living. 

Friends say Mejia sends some of his income to Mexico, where his disabled mother and sister depend on it for medical needs.

Nunez, his co-worker, is also married and a father of three children under twelve years old. He lives in Hayward.  

Attorney Whitfield says the job assignment was at a base hospital, so the men may not have realized they were entering a high security area where their ID would be scrutinized. 

They had worked on federal property in the past, however, using a taxpayer identification number in place of a Social Security number.