Wednesday afternoon, after a year under sanctuary, Jose Robles left Gethsemane Lutheran Church — the congregation that had offered him protection from detention and deportation as he sought a way to stay in the United States.
Robles, his family, and dozens of supporters gathered outside of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security building in Tukwila. Robles was accompanied by his lawyers and was making an appeal to be granted a stay of removal while he waits for a visa that would let him stay with his family here.
Robles held his family, hugging his daughter goodbye before being escorted inside the building. Around 2 p.m., media and supporters were briefed that Robles had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and would be sent to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Robles was scheduled to be deported last June, but instead he claimed sanctuary at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Federal immigration authorities have steered clear of arresting people at churches, and at least one other Seattle-area man, Jaime Rubio Sulficio, has been living under church sanctuary.
Religious leaders and supporters demanded action to help keep Robles united with his wife and daughters.
Robles moved to the United States from his home country, Mexico, 19 years ago. While living at the church, he was unable to continue working at his painting business and support his family.
Supporters say Robles would be eligible for a U-Visa which would give him temporary protection from deportation because he was a victim of robbery in Lakewood. Supporters had been pressuring the Lakewood Police Department to grant him a U-Visa Certification, which are granted to victims of certain crimes to allow them to stay in the U.S to help law enforcement investigate.
Sandy Restrepo, Robles’ attorney, says the Lakewood Police Department denied him the certification citing that the crime wasn’t severe enough. Shortly after Robles went into sanctuary last year, the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office said the assault counted as felony and warranted Robles to be given a U-Visa.
Restrepo said before Robles decided to present himself to immigration authorities, he had considered that detention was a possibility. Restrepo said by going into sanctuary a year ago, Robles did not comply with the alternative to detention program he had been prescribed to follow at the time.
His family was deeply upset with the turn of events, she said.
“But they understand that this is one part in the larger fight and hopefully at the end he will have a sustainable form of relief and he never has to come back here again,” Restrepo said.
Before being taken into custody, Robles conveyed a message to his supporters and to the public.
“He did say that he wanted everyone to know that he was OK and that he was OK that this was happening and that he hopes his U-Visa will be approved,” Restrepo told media.
Restrepo says it will take a few weeks before he will face a judge or be eligible for a bond.