The political stalemate over the United States’ clearly broken and nonsensical immigration policy in Washington, D.C., has trapped a Tucson family inside the welcoming walls of a south-side church where they have taken sanctuary from a federal deportation order.
It is time for federal immigration officials to do what already should have taken place — close the deportation case of Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, or issue a “stay” that officially stops removal action and allows him to safely return to his life of work, church, community and family in Tucson.
Deportation cases for people who are determined “low priority” — no criminal record, no safety threat, solid roots in the community — are regularly closed in immigration courts. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the U.S. Department of Justice, from November 2011, when the government began the practice, through March 27 the government has used prosecutorial discretion to close 31,178 cases.
The practice is both humane and a smart use of limited federal resources. The case of Daniel Neyoy Ruiz is unusual only in that his family has decided to make their circumstance public. They are offering themselves as a window to the dysfunctional and confounding world of American immigration policy.
The 36-year-old’s journey to the sanctuary of Southside Presbyterian Church began 14 years ago in a dangerous neighborhood in Sinaloa. As violence in their hometown increased, newlyweds Daniel and Karla decided to leave Mexico and come to the United States.
“We wanted to find what does not exist in Mexico: security, opportunity for a better life, especially for people who do not have a lot of education. That is the shining star of this country,” said Karla in an interview last week, speaking with the help of a translator. They have a 13-year-old son, Carlos, who is an American citizen.
Daniel works at an apartment complex, is active in his church, and is a community safety volunteer who has taken training from the local police. They’ve paid income taxes for the past 10 years. Daniel and Karla want to become U.S. citizens, but there is no way to gain legal status until Carlos turns 21 and can apply on their behalf. So they live, work and wait.
Trouble for Daniel began in 2011 when he was pulled over by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer because his exhaust pipe was emitting smoke — not a criminal or dangerous traffic offense.
Immigration officials were called and the deportation process began. He spent about $16,000 in legal fees to fight it, but lost.
About two months ago he received a letter stating he had to leave the U.S. by May 13, prompting Daniel asked for and received sanctuary from Southside Presbyterian Church. It’s an institution with deep roots in the Sanctuary Movement, which began in the 1980s as refugees from wars in Central America fled north. Churches across the country offered refugees assistance.
Daniel cannot safely leave the church grounds, and while Karla and Carlos are able to come and go, they have been living as a family in a small room at Southside, sleeping on air mattresses. They’re in their third week of sanctuary.
Moving to Mexico as a family isn’t an option, Daniel and Karla say. It is too dangerous and they fear for their son’s safety. Families with American relatives are targets for kidnappings, Karla said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stated publicly that the agency has reviewed Daniel’s case and has “decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion by not taking immediate action on Mr. Ruiz’s removal order.”
While the statement may sound positive, it is essentially meaningless. It offers no security or finality to the deportation order and denies Daniel what many other out-of-status immigrants in similar situations have successfully obtained — documentation that he can carry with him. Without it, any contact with law enforcement, no matter the reason, could prompt an immigration check and he would be immediately deported to Mexico without even a hearing.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva has sent President Obama a letter asking for help with Daniel’s case.
Daniel said he wants Obama to think about what he would do in this situation. “If he was told he would have to leave his wife and child, would he just go or would he stay and fight for his family. I want him, father-to-father, man-to-man, to think about what would happen if his family was torn apart.”
While this family lives in a church, waiting for justice, Congress and the White House waste time and fail to do what clearly must be done: create a way for upstanding people who are in the U.S. illegally to attain legal status and get on a path to citizenship.
“For President Obama and the House Republicans, they’re kicking a ball between them,” Daniel said. “But what do I say to my son to try to explain that?”
The puzzle of immigration policy must be fixed. The human cost of doing nothing is too high.