After other immigrants were thrown into detention when they showed up for meetings with federal authorities, a Rutgers University student brought backup when she went to her appointment on Tuesday.
Carimer Andujar was just four when she arrived from the Dominican Republic with her mother, who was fleeing domestic abuse. Although Carimer was undocumented, she was protected from immediate deportation under then-President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
But a few weeks after President Trump's inauguration, Andujar, who lives in Passaic, New Jersey, received a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement: She had to come to the federal building in Newark. No explanation was given.
Outside ICE headquarters on Tuesday morning, Andujar met hundreds of supporters: students and faculty from Rutgers University, where she's a junior studying chemical engineering, plus members of churches and labor unions. They escorted her to the entrance of the building and then stayed outside — chanting, rallying, and worrying about whether she'd emerge.
"I didn’t sleep last night," Andujar said as she walked inside. "I am a bit nervous. I am so grateful for all of the support, but there’s still that lingering doubt that something might happen."
Her attorney, Jason Scott Camilo, acknowledged Andujar's application to renew her DACA status was incomplete. But he did not think that was why she was called in, since DACA procedures are not handled by the immigration agency. "They called her in because they wanted to call her in," Camilo said.
Another theory soon surfaced: Andujar, 21, is an immigrant rights activist who founded the group UndocuRutgers, for undocumented students. Perhaps the meeting was intended to intimidate or silence her?
"If the impetus for targeting her as a DACA student," said Sherry Wolf, a union leader for Rutgers University professors, "is that she has been politically active and outspoken and rebellious and dissenting, and advocating for people who are supposed to be swept aside, then her best offense is a good offense."
Recently ICE agents have been acting with broader discretion, particularly in New Jersey, causing a wave of anxiety to roll through the immigrant community. On Monday, for example, four Indonesian men who had been in New Jersey for 20-plus years were detained after showing up for a scheduled meeting at the very same office that Andujar found herself in.
After about two hours inside, Andujar reappeared outside to a jolt of cheers. She thanked her supporters, and she vowed to finish her education and continue to "chase after my dreams."
Andujar said immigration authorities were well aware of the supporters outside. Her attorney, Camilo, said the meeting lasted just five minutes. Her fingerprints were taken, and she was not given another date to return. He expects her DACA renewal to be approved soon.
Andujar said her mother was overwhelmed by the support. "The smile on her face seeing me walk out of that building without handcuffs, or without an ankle bracelet — I'm happy that I get to go home to my mom," she told the crowd.
ICE spokesman Lou Rodriguez would not divulge any information about why Andujar was called to the meeting, or why she was released. He listed a range of possibilities, but said the explanation could be something else.
After the meeting, Andujar said, "Contrary to what some might believe, I do consider myself an American, because being an American is not just having a piece of paper — that's a misconception ... I am here to stay."