HOUSTON (KTRK) --Chef David Rodriguez is used to stress in the kitchen, but what he didn't expect, was stress as he and his wife returned from their honeymoon last fall. As the couple was coming into the country through Miami, Rodriguez was detained by immigration officials for a secondary screening, which led to a months long saga he never expected.
"I'm not the only case, there are hundreds of cases like mine," said Rodriguez at a press conference on Wednesday. "I'm just speaking out about it."
In Miami, Rodriguez had his permanent resident card confiscated, and he was given a date to appear at a Houston processing center. However, when Rodriguez, his wife Vanessa, and a former lawyer showed up last November, Rodriguez was immediately taken into custody. He would spend the next two months at an immigration holding center near Bush Intercontinental Airport.
"You're kind of in limbo, in all honesty, because you don't know if you're like in prison, or a holding facility, nobody really explains to you what it is," said the chef, who runs the kitchen at Tout Suite, a caf in Houston's trendy EADO neighborhood.
It turns out, the secondary screening was started because Rodriguez has a misdemeanor conviction on his record. The conviction was five years old, but it was originally entered as a felony. The misdemeanor has never been an issue in the past when Rodriguez traveled out of the country. This time, for whatever reason, it became an issue for federal agents in Miami.
"If you've come back twice (from overseas), and you haven't had problems, and you plead the case, and had attorneys tell you this shouldn't affect you in the future, you kind of believe maybe you had a chance," said John Nechman, an attorney who specializes in immigration cases. Nechman was brought on recently, after the couple became frustrated with Rodriguez's detainment, and the work of a previous attorney.
It took more than 70 days and a change in lawyers to straighten out the miscommunication and get Rodriguez form a detention center back to his kitchen. Now, the chef and his wife are speaking out because they want to make a difference in the battle over immigration policies.
"It's our responsibility because we know English very well and Spanish very well to at least let people know what happened to us," said Vanessa Rodriguez.
She says while the couple isn't quite ready to become immigration activists, they do want to raise awareness about the confusion immigration laws can cause. The couple estimates the cost to detain Rodriguez for 70 plus days probably cost tax payers at least $15,000 dollars. Money they say were wasted.