NEWARK, NJ — They met her with a hero’s welcome.
Carimer Andujar, a Rutgers University student facing deportation, emerged from the federal building on Broad Street in Newark around 10:30 a.m. to applause from hundreds of supporters. The 21-year-old undocumented immigrant came from a interview with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who were deciding whether she’d stay in the country.
The agency has taken an interest in the outspoken on-campus activist. Her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals renewal form — which would allow her to continue to attend college without fear of deportation — had yet to be approved. But members of the Rutgers community and a fiery group of activists rallied outside today, May 9, demanding ICE agents keep their “hands off Carimer.”
What ICE told Andujar and whether her DACA form has been renewed wasn’t immediately clear. Even so, she appeared positive and determined to continue advocating for immigrants in her address to the crowd.
“I do intend to stay here,” Andujar said after thanking her backers. “I do intend to finish my education, and I do intend to chase after my dreams.”
Andujar arrived in Newark for a 9 a.m. meeting requested by ICE. No one knew whether she’d be detained on the spot, as activists said other people have in recent days.
When she went upstairs, ICE agents asked her several questions and took her fingerprints, she said.
“They were well aware of the support I had waiting for me outside,” Andujar said, “from community members, from university leaders, from elected officials, from clergy.”
A sizable crowd began to assemble outside the building after 8 a.m. in anticipation of the chemical-engineering student’s interview. Rutgers professors, students and activists joined with priests, aspiring politicians and local leaders to rally for Andujar and against President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.
Many of the faces were familiar to those in New Brunswick’s high-octane anti-Trump movement, a push whose members have acted quickly and often to stand up for undocumented immigrants.
“Let us stand with the new Americans who will build the 21st Century of America,” Lucye Millerand, president of the Union of Rutgers Administrators, said, echoing a common sentiment in the movement. “Let us stand with Carimer.”
The #HandsOffCarimer campaign — which spread wildly on social media and has since attracted cameras from New York — came about due to Andujar’s connection to Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union that represents roughly 7,000 faculty members.
After Andujar received a letter from ICE about two months ago, she approached Sherry Wolf, a senior organizer for the union. The young woman wasn’t sure if she should take her struggle public. Wolf said the decision was hers, adding that “the best defense is a good offense.”
From there, the Rutgers faculty union posted Andujar’s story on its Facebook page. Then it organized an action meeting for her supporters. Next came a rally in New Brunswick and then today’s demonstration, for which the group chartered a bus out of Rutgers.
But as much as Wolf and her colleagues showed up today for Andujar, they also mobilized for the 400 other undocumented students at Rutgers and any number of others elsewhere.
“DACA students were made to understand that having DACA status was some sort of protection, but we are finding out these last weeks that there is no armor of protection,” Wolf said, her voice loud and strained. “We will not allow this to become normal in this country.”
Among the dozen or so speakers were several of Andujar’s fellow Rutgers students. Some spoke about their experiences as an undocumented immigrant, while another described what it’s like to be a Muslim in Trump’s America.
Their common ground? Each speaker either felt oppressed or aimed to stand up for the oppressed.
The protesters filled the time between speakers with chants and song. They held signs that carried slogans like “I stand with Carimer,” “We are proud of you Carimer!” and “Defund ICE.”
While the pro-Andujar movement is grassroots, several elected officials and politicians have signed on to her cause.
Representatives of Phil Murphy, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone spoke in solidarity with Andujar and undocumented immigrants. Newark City Councilman Luis Quintana and Essex County Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla also condemned Trump and ICE.
Seth Kaper-Dale, a Highland Park pastor who’s running for governor and often frequents New Brunswick demonstrations, fired up the crowd with an angry tirade against the country’s budding anti-immigrant policies.
“As the minister of a church, I’m not supposed to want to talk about hate, but I hate this place,” he yelled, pointing to the ICE building. “This place right here is racial and ethnic cleansing American-style.”
But in the end, it was Andujar — interview-ready in dress clothes and her hair tied back in a bun — who most energized the crowd.
Having arrived in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 4 years old, she said she has always considered herself an American. If she were booted from the country, she said, she would lose her family and the only home she’s ever known.
Even so, she doesn’t plan to go silent, despite being on ICE’s radar. Many have speculated that her position as the founding president of UndocuRutgers, an immigrant-advocacy group, exposed her to deportation in the first place.
“My dedication to undocumented students and ensuring that they have the opportunities that they deserve remains,” she said. “I will fight back because I am here to stay.”
And, if only for today, it appears she has won.