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With his deportation delayed at least 30 days, Arturo Hernandez Garcia anxiously gets back to his family, work
When Arturo Hernandez Garcia was freed Tuesday night from an immigration detention center in the Denver area after a week of being held pending his deportation, the first thing he wanted to do on Wednesday morning was go to work.
His wife persuaded him to do otherwise, and the 44-year-old Mexican father of two girls, who has lived in Colorado for more than 15 years, instead went to a court hearing to support a fellow person living in the U.S. unlawfully. Work, he said, would wait until Thursday.
“I really did think that first day (in detention) that I was going to be deported,” recounted Hernandez Garcia, who spent nine months in a Denver church basement between 2014 and 2015 to prevent his deportation before being told he was no longer an enforcement priority. He was then arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on April 26.
He added, speaking through a translator: “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ Then I started thinking about how (my daughter) is registered for college in the fall and who is going to pay for her studies if I’m not here to work? It was really difficult.”
Hernandez Garcia’s release — as part of a 30-day delay of his deportation — came after a week of frantic efforts by his supporters and Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation to halt his removal from the U.S. There were protests, news conferences and even two pieces of legislation filed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, of Golden.
Bennet and Perlmutter also lobbied ICE officials to not deport Hernandez Garcia, with Perlmutter penning a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pleading his case. The congressman argued Hernandez Garcia is a hardworking man whose split from his family would be an undue hardship.
“Not only is Mr. Hernandez a contributing and valued member of this community,” wrote Perlmutter, a 2018 Colorado gubernatorial candidate, “he is a parent of a U.S. citizen.” Perlmutter says he is appreciative that ICE heard his concerns and granted the delay in Hernandez Garcia’s case.
Hernandez Garcia was detained by a group of plainclothes ICE agentswhile he was working at his flooring job. His supporters say the arrest came as a complete surprise, as nothing in his case had changed — no encounters with local law enforcement, no interactions with federal immigration officials and no notice that he was suddenly a priority for deportation.
Immigrant advocates — and Hernandez Garcia himself — feel the arrest was possibly fueled by politics under President Donald Trump and potentially the notoriety of Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican woman who has taken sanctuary in the First Unitarian Society of Denver, the same church that harbored Hernandez Garcia. Last month, Vizguerra was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world for her work in the immigrant-rights movement.
Hernandez Garcia’s arrest came the morning after an impromptu gala was held at the church celebrating the recognition.
ICE has not commented at length on why Hernandez Garcia was suddenly arrested or released, saying only that they were acting on a deportation order for him that was issued in 2014.
“Hernandez Garcia has overstayed his original, six-month visa by nearly 14 years,” ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a written statement last week. “He has exhausted his petitions through the immigration courts and through ICE.”
The agency says Hernandez Garcia, on Tuesday, was granted a 30-day stay of deportation by Denver ICE Field Office Director Jeffrey Lynch and released on an order of supervision.
“It’s not the end of the story,” said Jennifer Piper, interfaith organizer in Denver for the American Friends Service Committee, who has been heavily involved in the case. “He’s got a long legal battle ahead of him.”
Hernandez Garcia’s supporters say they hope the monthlong pause in his deportation will allow for appeals to be filed in his case. At the very least, he will be able to attend his teen daughter’s high school graduation next week.
“We hope things get back to normal as soon as possible,” said Ana Sauzameda, Hernandez Garcia’s wife. “Just get back to as much of a normal life as we can in the midst of this fight.”
Hernandez Garcia came to the attention of immigration officers in 2010 after an altercation at a job site where he and his crew were laying tile. He was arrested but later was acquitted of all charges. However, an immigration judge ordered his deportation in April 2014.
Since coming to the U.S. in 1999, Hernandez Garcia applied a half-dozen times for some kind of legal status or discretion in his immigration case to no avail.
He claimed sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society in October 2014 and his story quickly became a focal point in the immigration debate after drawing the attention of national media outlets. Hernandez Garcia left the church in July 2015 after receiving a letter from ICE saying he was no longer a priority for deportation.
Hernandez Garcia says he hasn’t thought much about the prospect of returning to sanctuary if he doesn’t have a resolution in his case in the next 30 days. He’s putting his trust in his attorney and hoping for the best.
“At first I was worried about being picked up again,” Hernandez Garcia said Wednesday about when he left sanctuary in 2015. “But after a year and a half of living my normal life, and not having any new problems, I really started to think that things were going to be just normal.”Content originally published by the Denver Post on May 4, 2017.