Rallying for Rodrigo

Family and friends are fighting to prevent the deportation of a Northeast Philadelphia father who is in ICE custody.

Rodrigo Costa and Lindsay Belcher took a family vacation to Disney World in October with Melody, 10, Eva, 8, and Arianna, 4. SOURCE: LINDSAY BELCHER

A Northeast Philadelphia family is fighting to prevent the deportation of a 32-year-old father who has been living in the United States since 2005.

Rodrigo Costa, who was born in Brazil, was arrested by immigration officers Oct. 12 outside his home in Academy Gardens, according to family members. He is being held without bail at York County Prison.

His wife, Lindsay Belcher, a U.S. citizen, is working with attorneys to stop Costa’s deportation. They have filed a motion to reopen Costa’s 13-year-old deportation case.

Costa crossed the border in 2005 when he was 19 years old and visited an immigration office in an attempt to get a work permit, according to Belcher. She said he was detained by authorities and questioned in Spanish even though he speaks Portuguese.

At the time, an immigration hearing was scheduled. Costa did not show up, and a judge deported him in absentia. Belcher and her attorney say Costa was not properly notified of the hearing and that his case should be reexamined.

“We’re kind of basing our fight on that now,” Belcher said. “He didn’t understand what was happening.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed to the Times that Costa is in custody in York County. He has been considered an immigration fugitive since November 2005, ICE officials said.

Costa does not have a criminal record, family members said. He married Belcher in 2014, and they have a child together, 4-year-old Arianna. Belcher said he also serves as a father to her other two children, Eva, 8, and Melody, 10. Their biological father has drug and alcohol issues and has not been involved in their lives, she said.

“He is their dad,” Belcher said. “He’s the support system right now and has been for years.”

The arrest and threat of Costa’s deportation has devastated Belcher’s large and close-knit family, many of whom live near each other in Academy Gardens.

“Our family is in despair,” said an emotional Jacklyn Belcher, Lindsay’s sister-in-law. “He’s part of my children’s lives every single day.”

“It’s just a blow that I don’t think any of us were ready for,” she added.

Rodrigo Costa carries his daughter, Arianna, 4, during a recently family trip to Disney World. SOURCE: LINDSAY BELCHER

Lindsay Belcher said she worked with Costa to acquire a Green Card so he could become a permanent U.S. resident after they got married. The process dragged on, she said, but they were making progress.

“We came up to a roadblock,” Belcher said. “We were advised to just hold tight by our lawyers because of the nature of the political problems.”

The “political problems” were the election of President Donald J. Trump and his subsequent executive orders regarding illegal immigration. Trump’s administration has made apprehending people with old deportation orders, like Costa, a priority.

Belcher believes ICE obtained Costa’s address and other information from forms he filed to get permanent residency, but she doesn’t know for sure how authorities tracked him down.

Last week, Belcher visited Costa at York County Prison.

“He’s not holding up well,” she said. “He’s super upset. It’s hard on him. He’s really, really, really worried about being deported.”

Family members have set up a GoFundMe page entitled “Rally for Rodrigo.” So far, it has raised more than $5,600. Belcher said the money will go toward Costa’s legal fees as well as toward household bills to cover her husband’s loss of income.

“Besides the legal fees alone, my sister-in-law has three children and is now solely providing for them,” said Jacklyn Belcher, who organized the fundraiser. “Financially, I don’t know how my sister-in-law is going to make ends meet.”

Costa had a burgeoning hardwood flooring business before he was arrested, according to family members. He was responsible for the family’s mortgage and daycare costs, Lindsay Belcher said.

Jacklyn Belcher said Costa worked constantly and always showed up for family events and get-togethers.

“He was never on any type of welfare,” Jacklyn Belcher said. “He never asked for a handout. He’s not the kind of man that wants a handout.”

“This man would pull up on the street any day of the week and help any neighbor out without even asking for anything in return, ever,” she added.

Lindsay Belcher said family and friends, some of whom she barely knows, have stepped up to support Costa’s cause.

“He is well-liked by so many people,” she said. “He’s nicer than most of the citizens that I know.”

Belcher said she is expecting to hear a decision on whether the court will reopen Costa’s immigration case on Thursday. Check back here for updates on the situation. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com