An immigrant in Arizona is seeking sanctuary from federal officials after driving with a faulty exhaust landed him in deportation proceedings.
Daniel Noyoy Ruiz, 36, has no criminal record, paid taxes for a decade and even sings in a church choir, but he now faces expulsion from the U.S. to his native Mexico. On Wednesday, Ruiz, his wife and their son took sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., so he could avoid deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The concept of seeking sanctuary as a way to avoid deportation isn’t new. In the 1980s, Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries took refuge in churches as part of a nationwide movement. Requests for sanctuary, which typically involves providing shelter, material goods and legal advice, are less common among immigrants today, but not unheard of, and the church where Ruiz is now housed has handled similar cases.
Ruiz has also gotten help from the immigrant-rights organization No More Deaths. They’re spearheading the push to have him stay in the U.S.
“He’s a fantastic example of all the contradictions that exist in our immigration policy,” Sarah Launius, a spokesperson for the group, told Fusion. “Regardless of the paperwork, there still remain multiple additional avenues that ICE can take to intervene in this case.”
Ruiz illegally entered the U.S. with his wife Karla nearly 15 years ago. Originally from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, they settled in Tucson, Ariz. Their son Carlos was born a few years after their arrival and is a U.S. citizen.
After being stopped for a faulty exhaust in 2011, police found out that Ruiz was an undocumented immigrant, and referred his case to ICE.
According to ICE, an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review found that Ruiz was classified as removable, but granted him voluntary departure, which would allow him to leave the country without the some of the negative repercussions that can follow a deportation.
Ruiz appealed the decision, but his plea was dismissed and the court required him to depart by May 13, according to federal officials. Because he failed to depart, he lost his chance to leave the country voluntarily and can now be deported. That’s why he sought sanctuary in the church.
Federal immigration officials, however, say they aren’t planning to deport him at the moment.
“After conducting a thorough review of Mr. Ruiz’s immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion by not taking immediate action on Mr. Ruiz’s removal order,” a spokesperson said in an email to Fusion.
But “not taking immediate action” doesn’t guarantee Ruiz his safety. His lawyer, Margo Cowan, welcomed ICE’s statement but worried that she hadn’t received any official reprieve from federal authorities.
“I want something in writing that he can carry with him on his person so that if he's stopped and asked for his status he can show that document to whomever is asking,” Cowan told The Guardian.
Arizona isn’t the best place for a person living in the gray area of immigration policy. The state is home to the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in generations, known as SB 1070. While much of the law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012, the remaining provisions still allow law enforcement officers to ask individuals for their immigration documents, and to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
While ICE claims they have no immediate plans to take Ruiz into custody, he remains with his family at the church while the agency considers his application to stay in the country.
“We’re holding on,” Launius said. “What’s remarkable is how unremarkable it is. This happens all the time. The difference here is that he said he won’t continue trying to live his life when at any moment he could be essentially kidnapped off the street. He’s going to make sure his family is able to stay together.”