Last Thursday morning, after a quiet, one-week stay in sanctuary at a Tucson church, Daniel Neyoy-Ruiz celebrated Immigration and Customs Enforcement's decision to grant him relief from deportation for one year ... again.
The June 2014 stay of his removal case had expired Tuesday, June 9, and Neyoy-Ruiz anxiously awaited ICE's ruling on whether the agency would extend it another year.
He and his lawyer filed a new application. The next day he moved into the church, as a preventative move. Being deported to Mexico after 15 years, away from his wife and 14-year-old son will not, ever, be up for consideration.
"They have to realize that they are separating families. What they are doing is grave," he said last Wednesday. In between words he played a few notes on his Mexican-flag-colored accordion. His guitar case rested near his bed. He had also brought materials to paint, a hobby he picked up last time he was in sanctuary. "All (ICE) sees sometimes is an alien number, but that number has a heart, has a family, it's a person."
A ceremony to officially welcome him into First Christian was planned for the following afternoon. But that turned out to be more of a celebration with family members, friends and supporters. The gathering wrapped up with a prayer by Pastor Ailsa Guardiola Gonzales. Neyoy-Ruiz bowed his head and held his son Carlos' hand.
"It's a tragedy, this is something that affects our community," Guardiola Gonzalez said. "Being a strong community, a community of support of love for families, those opportunities are being stolen and it affects all of us." Neyoy-Ruiz was the first sanctuary case the church housed since the movement gained momentum in Tucson and around the country again. First Christian was also involved in the cases that emerged in the 1980s, when an influx of Central Americans made their way to the U.S., escaping from their civil-war-stricken countries at the time.
It was surprising to Neyoy-Ruiz's supporters to hear back from ICE so quickly. More than that, though, it was shocking to absorb the agency had gone down that path for a second round. Even his lawyer, Margo Cowan (who has represented several other sanctuary cases), warned Neyoy-Ruiz to not sing victory.
"I feel beyond happy and grateful. I will be calm for another year, but I hope my case will be resolved soon," Neyoy-Ruiz said after the ceremony. "Still, I'm going to keep fighting with Rosa (Robles Loreto) and help others who need sanctuary. (Many people) don't know, and I have to tell them that this is an option."
ICE issued a short statement that said their decisions to grant such deportation relief varied from case-to-case.
"At the end of that period, ICE will re-evaluate the case to determine the appropriate next steps," said a statement last Thursday by Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, ICE's spokeswoman. "ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion ... considering the totality of an individual's case, including but not limited to criminal history, immigration history, family and community ties, humanitarian issues and whether he or she is likely to receive temporary or permanent status or other relief from removal."
During this past year, Neyoy-Ruiz planned to apply for President Obama's November 2014 program for parents of U.S. citizen or permanent resident children, which would have given him a renewable three-year work permit and deportation protection. However, DAPA, along with the extended version of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was blocked by a federal judge in February. Plans to get another work permit are also in limbo for now.
Per ICE policies, Neyoy-Ruiz is not a priority for removal. When Obama issued the immigration actions, he also reassured that undocumented people who aren't felons or threaten national security should not be at the top of the deportation list.
In Neyoy-Ruiz's case, ICE has been following the guidelines to a T.
"It seems like, from the perspective of legal counsel, we are seeing a state of confusion out there with regards to how ICE is handling each individual case," Tucson immigration lawyer Mo Goldman told the Tucson Weekly last month. "It goes both ways, it is hurting some people and helping a few others."
Robles Loreto's sanctuary case hasn't fallen on ICE's good side. She's lived at Southside Presbyterian Church—Neyoy-Ruiz's old stomping grounds—for 10 months, despite not having a criminal record, having good ties with the community and being the mother of two boys who qualify for Obama's extended DACA. (The sole difference between Robles Loreto and Neyoy-Ruiz are that Robles Loreto's sons were not born in the U.S.)
The range in decision-making even triggered U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva to plea Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to ensure ICE and all other immigration agencies respond to these cases more consistently.
"A lot of people who have been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform hoped the executive action would give greater clarity on how prosecutorial discretion was being implemented," Sarah Lanius, an immigration rights advocate, who's been working with Robles Loreto, Neyoy-Ruiz and others alongside Cowan, told the Weekly in May. "Sadly, as of yet, that has not been the case. Arguably, we are not in a better place now, six months after the executive order, and that is very troubling. What it signals is that the intention of the executive order is not being followed and implemented."
These days, Neyoy Ruiz awaits for the future of DAPA, and prays for immigration reform.
His son is getting ready to start high school in the fall as a member of the football team, and Neyoy-Ruiz doesn't want to miss a thing. He's been working daily construction gigs to support his family, and his wife, Karla, also works full-time.
The good news is bittersweet. When he thinks of Robles Loreto, he wonders why she hasn't gotten a resolution as well. On Saturday, he led a march in solidarity with Robles Loreto and other mixed-status families in similar circumstances.
"(The government) needs to look at our accomplishments, what we bring to this country. We aren't here to steal, we aren't here to do bad things, we are here to fight for our families, to work hard from dawn and dusk," he says.