Daniel Neyoy Ruiz might not be fleeing the wars in Central America that led many to the doors of Southside Presbyterian Church more than 30 years ago — but to his family, the situation is no less desperate.
The Mexican immigrant, along with his wife, Karla Neyoy, and his son are set to receive sanctuary today unless U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials decide to let Neyoy Ruiz remain in the country.
In 2011, he was driving to work when he was stopped on Interstate 19 by a state Department of Public Safety officer because his car’s exhaust was emitting smoke. Unable to prove he was in the country legally, Neyoy Ruiz was handed over to the U.S. Border Patrol, and has been in removal proceedings since then.
Two months ago, he was given 60 days to leave the country, something Neyoy Ruiz said he is not ready to do.
“I can’t leave,” he said in Spanish inside the meeting room of Southside Presbyterian. “I’m going to fight until the end, for my family. Because if I give up, what’s going to happen to them?”
The church was the birthplace of the sanctuary movement in the early 1980s. While the circumstances of those leaving their countries of origin are not completely the same today, there are still some clear parallels, said Sarah Roberts, a member of Southside Presbyterian’s decision-making body.
“The previous history of sanctuary was for many Central American refugees who were fleeing wars in Central America and fleeing for their lives,” Roberts said. “People coming to the United States now are fleeing serious economic situations in Mexico and Central America. But also there is violence, there is extortion, and people pressured into gangs.”
Roberts said church leaders agreed unanimously to support the family, a stance the Rev. Alison Harrington supports unwaveringly.
“We are a church that deeply values families, and don’t believe they should be torn apart,” she said. “And so I’m willing to stand in solidarity with this family in order to prevent that from happening.”
Unless ICE officials change course, the family will begin living inside the church this afternoon. The family’s attorney, Margo Cowan, said she is confident the situation will be resolved quickly.
She cited the push by President Obama to have the Department of Homeland Security prioritize its use of resources regarding deportations and to focus on immigrants who have criminal records.
“Daniel is the kind of man that the president spoke of when he said we shouldn’t be tearing families apart,” Cowan said.
Neyoy Ruiz and his wife came the United States 14 years ago. They settled in Tucson, and their 13-year-old son is a U.S. citizen. Neyoy Ruiz has worked in construction and has paid taxes since 2005, he said.
“The only thing I ask is that I’m allowed to work. Let me be with my family. I’ve never done anyone any harm — on the contrary, I’ve contributed,” he said. “It’s not just me; it’s a lot of people that are in the same situation — fathers, mothers, brothers. That’s something that the government has to see.”