Community members crammed into the Berkeley City Council chambers Tuesday night to speak out about the absence of 9-year-old Rodrigo Guzman, a Jefferson Elementary School student who was sent back to Mexico with his family in January when they were denied re-entry into the United States due to expired visas. Jefferson students read statements to the council, which later unanimously approved a resolution to fight for the family’s return.

The resolution includes a commitment to send letters to President Barack Obama, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senator Dianne Feinstein urging them to write special legislation to grant assistance to the family. The Berkeley Unified School District unanimously passed a similar resolution March 13.

Rodrigo and his family joined the council meeting via a Skype video connection, which Mayor Tom Bates said was a first for Berkeley. (Watch the video of Rodrigo’s statement here.)

YouTube video

“Thank you, everyone, for what you’re doing to try and get me home,” he said. “I hope that in the future people won’t have the same problem just because they don’t have a green card. And I hope that they’ll have the rights to come back. I am very thankful for all… that you guys are doing and I am also very sad at the same time — because I can’t be there. And I hope that this whole thing will turn out OK and that we’ll be able to come back home.”

Guzman added: “You’re just fourth grade kids but you guys are doing a big thing for us.”

On Jan. 10, according to organizers in the effort to bring the family back to Berkeley, Rodrigo and his parents, Reyna Diaz Mayida and Javier Ponce Guzman, were detained at the border in Houston when returning from a trip to Mexico. Immigration authorities discovered that their visas had expired, so the family was denied entrance to the U.S. The family was told they would have to wait five years before reapplying for visas.

“Rodrigo is having a terrible time adjusting to Mexico. He is stressed, vomits in the classroom and suffers from mosquito bites that cover his body,” organizers wrote in a prepared statement. “Rodrigo is sad and depressed about his uncertain future.”

Rodrigo has lived in Berkeley for seven years. According to a statement from Councilman Kriss Worthington, Rodrigo’s classmates “are very upset and confused that their good friend is being prevented from coming home and living a normal life because current U.S. policy lacks compassion and logic in its application to young families living in the United States.” Worthington introduced the resolution Tuesday night to the council.

Five of Rodrigo’s classmates have said they want to go to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Senate and Congress to ask for their classmate to be able to return to Berkeley. According to organizers, the students are studying the struggles of Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks “and believe today is their moment to battle for a cause they believe is part of our democracy.”

Organizers have formed the “Bring Rodrigo Home — Kids for Kids” campaign to bring together local, state and national immigration and civil rights groups “to bring attention to Rodrigo’s plight and put a ‘face’ to the issue.” According to Worthington’s report on the resolution, the campaign plans to send students and parents to Washington to testify.

“This campaign is empowering our children to become the next generation of powerful activists. They are deploying technology in creative and innovative ways we never dreamed was possible,” said Worthington in the report. Council members Jesse Arreguín, Max Anderson and Linda Maio also signed on to the report.

As of early Wednesday morning, 180 supporters had signed a petition in support of Rodrigo and his family.

Learn more at Follow the effort on Facebook

Jefferson kids fight to bring classmate back from Mexico [03.18.13]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...