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Migrant granted new deportation stay as he returns to sanctuary

Immigration officials have extended the stay of a Mexican illegal immigrant, Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, who went into sanctuary last week at a Midtown Tucson church to avoid being removed from the country after an earlier one-year discretionary order protecting him from deportation expired June 9.

In a statement released Thursday, Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe wrote that “after conducting another review of Mr. Neyoy-Ruiz’s immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement  has granted Mr. Neyoy-Ruiz an additional one-year stay of removal.”

"At the end of that period, ICE will re-evaluate the case to determine the appropriate next steps,” O’Keefe wrote, adding that the agency typically conducts reviews on a “case-by-case basis.”

A year ago,  Neyoy Ruiz went into sanctuary at a South Tucson church to stave off a deportation order, but was granted a one-year stay allowing him to remain in the country for another year with his wife and 14-year-old son.

On June 10, Neyoy Ruiz quietly entered sanctuary at First Christian Church in Midtown Tucson hoping to avoid deportation while buying time for immigration officials to grant him another stay or close his case.

Rev. Allison Harrington, the pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in south Tucson, praised ICE’s action. “I call upon them to get the paperwork to Daniel by Friday, so that he can join a march scheduled for Saturday and enjoy Father’s Day at home with his family.”

The stay ends a nervous, difficult time for the family.

Neyoy Ruiz had been in the United States with his wife Karla for over a decade when, in 2011, he was pulled over on I-10 by officers with Arizona Department of Public Safety because his car's exhaust was "smoking too much," he said.

Officers asked him for his driver's license and he presented them with a Mexican license. The officers called the Border Patrol who arrested Neyoy Ruiz and took him to immigration detention in Florence, Arizona.

After years of litigation in the immigration courts, Neyoy Ruiz received a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that he would be deported in 30 days.

On May 14, 2014 Neyoy Ruiz went into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in south Tucson. The move galvanized the sanctuary movement. By August more than a dozen immigrants were taking sanctuary in at least eight other cities, including Phoenix, Chicago and Philadelphia.

After nearly a month of public pressure from advocates, immigration officials agreed to give Neyoy Ruiz a one-year stay in the United States and a work permit.

Neyoy Ruiz was followed by Rosa Robles Loreto, who remains in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church after 10 months, and Francisco Cordova, who received a stay just before Christmas after 90 days in sanctuary at St. Francis in the Foothills in north Tucson.

While the stay was temporary, by November it appeared to have bought Neyoy Ruiz enough time to become part of two new programs laid out by President Obama during a televised speech.

On November 20, the president announced an expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and a second program — known as DAPA — that would allow parents of U.S. citizen children and legal residents to seek their own work permits and protection from deportation.

Federal officials prepared to begin accepting application on Feb. 18, however both programs were stymied by a last-minute injunction by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas, who halted both programs in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states, including Arizona.

In May, the Fifth Circuit Court rejected an Obama administration plea to continue the programs as the lawsuit proceeds leaving Neyoy Ruiz, and nearly 4 million parents like him, in a legal limbo.

"He's a DAPA dad," said Margo Cowan, the family's attorney. "We thought we'd be fine after the president's address, and now we're stuck because DAPA is stuck.”

Now, Neyoy Ruiz has another year, but fighting to stay in the country has been costly.

The family has already spent more than $20,000 on attorney's fees and document filings.

Frantic that her husband could be deported, Karla found an immigration attorney and managed to raise enough to cover the attorney's retainer and a $3,500 bond. However, the attorney took their money and used it to pursue a poorly-considered defense unlikely to keep Daniel in the country.

Karla said she suspects the defense was designed to let the attorney "gain a lot more money from us."

This would nearly prove their undoing.

After a tense conversation, Daniel said his attorney told him "there was nothing he could do" to stay in the country. A week later, he received a letter from immigration authorities that he had 30 days to leave the country.

"Daniel paid a lot of money to someone who just walked him through the process," said Cowan. "The lawyer never asked the agency to close the case. They won't do it on their own, it has to be asked for."

"But, they're in the business of closing cases," she said. "If they have an opportunity to do so, they’ll do it in a hot-second."

Immigration officials are increasingly granting fewer stays. In 2012 fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Arizona granted stays to 53 percent of applicants, however, by 2014 that rate had dropped to around 35 percent.

This reflects a shift in the agency's use of stays, which is now considered a temporary measure designed to give people "additional time to settle personal affairs prior to departing from the United States" said the agency in a statement.

"A stay of deportation or removal is not considered an immigration benefit or waiver; rather, it is a form of prosecutorial discretion because it only allows temporary relief from removal for the individual," said the agency.

"We were so afraid," said Karla. "We didn't know what to do, but we found people to help us and we're thankful to the community for their support."

"I was so very happy to get the stay," said Daniel. However, as time went on, he began to worry.

His application to get his work permit was jammed up in the federal bureaucracy and officials were asking him to reapply, which included a new $400 fee. Without his work permit, Neyoy Ruiz lost his job doing maintenance at an apartment complex, and decided to work for himself. But, money remains tight.

"I had faith that things would go well, but it can't be like this every year," Daniel said.

Rev. Ailsa Guardiola Gonzalez, the pastor of First Christian Church, said that her faith compelled her to help Neyoy Ruiz. Her church, and the Pima Monthly Meeting, a nearby Quaker organization that has partnered with First Christian to help support Daniel and his family, said that her church has a tradition of involvement in the sanctuary movement, going back to the 1980s when Tucson residents helped protect immigrants fleeing Central America.

"We must do something to protect our neighbor," Gonzalez said. "We must answer a call to love and stand for the sanctity of families, and do what we can to keep them together."

In an interview Monday, Karla said she worries about her son, Carlos, who has just graduated Challenger Middle School in May and is headed for Desert View High School in the fall where he'll continue to play football.

Daniel said Carlos wants to keep playing, maybe in college. "We can't crush his dreams," Karla said. "If we went back, he wouldn't have the same opportunities."

And, she worries what life in Mexico would be like if she and Daniel had to  return. "If it were just us, maybe it would be okay. It would be hard, but for Carlos, it's dangerous. We don't have family in Mexico. We don't have a house."

"I can't fail my family," Daniel said.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz