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Tucson church gives sanctuary to undocumented man, family

The birthplace of the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, Southside Presbyterian is once again offering refuge for an undocumented immigrant behind its walls. 

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz has been in deportation proceedings for three years and unless Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials grant him a stay of removal by midnight Tuesday, he could be immediately deported to Mexico. 

The trouble began in 2011, when Neyoy Ruiz was pulled over by a Department of Public Safety officer. Unable to provide identification, Neyoy Ruiz was turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Though his previous lawyer was able to successfully keep him in the country, an administrative mistake has allowed the case to go forward and in March Neyoy Ruiz was ordered to leave the United States within 60 days. 

Faced with an eleventh-hour decision, church leaders were unanimous in offering sanctuary to Neyoy Ruiz, his wife Karla Neyoy, and their son, said Rev. Alison Harrington, the church's pastor. 

Southside Presbyterian's activists roots go back more than three decades when Rev. John M. Fife transformed the church into a sanctuary for Central American refugees in 1982. 

Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., the church, 317 W 23rd St., invited media and church members to meet Neyoy Ruiz and his family.

"Daniel fits squarely within the group of people who should not be removed just because the government can," said Margo Cowan, a lawyer for the family. "Mothers and fathers have been ripped from their families, but there's a difference: we're not going to let it happen to Daniel Neyoy and his family." 

Cowan has submitted a letter to immigration officials asking the government to close the case, but by Tuesday afternoon, that hadn't happened. She considers their decision a "slam-dunk" and compares his case to dozens of similar cases reviewed by volunteers at Southside that are often stayed or closed by immigration officials. 

According to the agency, ICE was"conducting a comprehensive review," but had yet made a final determination. 

After Cowan spoke, Neyoy Ruiz rose and thanked the community in Spanish for offering sanctuary to his family. 

"For three years, I've been filled with fear," said Neyoy Ruiz. "I'm afraid of being separated from my family." 

Worried about his son, he hoped that immigration officials would close his case and allow him to stay in the country. Neyoy Ruiz and his wife have lived in the United States for 14 years and their 13-year old son was born in Tucson. 

"I hope these works reach the people they need to reach so they will not separate us," said Neyoy Ruiz. 

Harrington said she was humbled by the family's courage. "We want to thank you for not giving up, for continuing to fight for your family and for refusing to shrink back into the shadows." 

"We know the cost, the risk of blood, sweat and tears that comes with sanctuary, but we have no choice but stand with those who are suffering," she said. 

Cowan believes the situation will be resolved quickly, but tonight the family will stay on the church grounds. 

Father Tom Tureman, from Most Holy Trinity Parish, 1300 N Greasewood Rd., not only asked for the government to close the case, but also for immigration reform from Congress. 

"Today, we're not only asking the government to close this case, but we also must think of the other cases that are out there — cases that are tearing up this part of the city and the nation" he said. "We have the power in this country to have a fair and just immigration policy." 

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"We don't want to live in a country where children are wondering if a midnight call means their parents are about to be separated," he said. 

In March, President Obama ordered a review of current immigration policy, citing a "deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system" according to a White House statement

When Neyoy Ruiz's case began in 2011, the government filed removal orders for nearly 240,000 people, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan research project supported by Syracuse University. 

In 2013, around 194,000 received notices to appear before an immigration court for removal from the United States. However, more than 90,000 were allowed to stay in the country through various forms of prosecutorial discretion. 

At the end of the meeting, Harrington asked the church to "lay hands" on the Neyoy Ruiz family and embrace them as part of their congregation. Tuesday night, the family planned to sleep on church grounds, protected by their new congregation and waiting for the government to answer their prayers. 

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1 comment on this story

1
3 comments
May 14, 2014, 12:24 pm
-4 +2

Why doesn’t the church just provide them the $680 per person fee and follow the instructions to become naturalized citizens found at USCIS - US Citizenship

If they don’t qualify then why should they be allowed to stay?

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Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Members of the Southside Presbyterian congregation 'lay hands' on Daniel Neyoy Ruiz and Karla Neyoy after agreeing to give sanctuary to the family. Daniel is facing deportation after an immigration court ordered him to leave the country by May 13.

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