An undocumented immigrant who has been living in sanctuary with his wife and son at Southside Presbyterian Church since May 13 has received a stay in his deportation case.

Even as he enjoyed lunch at a nearby restaurant Monday, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz said he couldn’t believe he could now safely leave the church grounds and return home.

“I still don’t believe it, but I’ve got the paper here to prove it,” he said, reaching for his pocket.

The document, a stay of deportation, means the government has agreed to not enforce the order of removal for one year. In the meantime, Neyoy Ruiz can obtain a work permit and later apply to renew the stay.

Attorney Margo Cowan said she received word midafternoon that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had approved her client’s petition. She rushed to the church to share the news.

“When she told me, I just began to cry,” Neyoy Ruiz said. “We were all crying there at the church. I’m very happy to be free again and be able to continue living my life.”

Cowan said that while she is pleased with the outcome in this case, Neyoy Ruiz represents the thousands of illegal immigrants who are in the United States without legal status.

“This really is a historic moment, and we call on the administration to stop issuing these final orders of removal for people who have earned the right to stay here,” she said.

Neyoy Ruiz and his wife, Karla, came to the U.S. in 2000 and have an American-born son who is 13.

His deportation case began in 2011 after he was stopped on Interstate 19 by a state Department of Public Safety officer because his car’s exhaust was emitting smoke. Immigration officials were called after he could not show he was in the country legally.

Neyoy Ruiz was granted sanctuary by Southside Presbyterian, the birthplace of the sanctuary movement in the early 1980s, after ICE initially declined to close his case or grant him a stay of deportation.

In a statement, ICE said that after conducting a further review, it had granted Neyoy-Ruiz a one-year stay of removal and would re-evaluate the case to determine next steps at the end of that period.

Cowan said it was a combination of voices that finally made the government reconsider. She said people had sent hundreds of emails and letters to government officials, and that Bishop Gerald Kicanas, leader of the Tucson Catholic Diocese, as well as U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ron Barber had supported their cause.

Although Karla Neyoy was thankful her family’s ordeal was over, she said their time at Southside Presbyterian not only kept them together, it made her family stronger — and larger.

“We value our family much more now, what we’re willing to do for each other,” she said. “And in these 26 days we have found new sisters, friends, aunts and mothers here. We have formed a new family with them.”

Star reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at or 807-8029. On Twitter: @lfcarrasco