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CENTENNIAL, Colo. – An undocumented man who was the first in Colorado to seek sanctuary from deportation when he did so in 2015 was detained at work Wednesday by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents.
It was quite the change of course for Arturo Hernandez-Garcia, who was told in 2015 after nine months of being in sanctuary at Denver’s First Unitarian Church that he was not a priority for deportation.
Hernandez-Garcia, a 44-year-old Mexican native, returned to his normal life in Colorado until he was again picked up Wednesday.
Hernandez-Garcia first came to the U.S. through El Paso, Texas in January 2003 on a six-month work visa, according to ICE, but outstayed his visa. He was first targeted for deportation after his 2010 arrest on an assault charge for a fight at work – a charge that was later dropped.
In October 2012, a federal immigration judge granted a 60-day voluntary departure request, but those turned into final deportation orders in December 2012, when he failed to voluntarily remove himself from the U.S., according to ICE.
In 2014, an appeal of his deportation was dismissed, but the Board of Immigration Appeals extended his voluntary departure date through Aprill 2014. However, when he didn't leave, a final order of removal became active again, according to ICE. He had applications for stays of removal denied in May 2014 and March 2015, according to ICE.
He will now be held until his removal, according to ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok.
Hernandez-Garcia was one of 10 people living in sanctuary across the country at the time – something that has become more common under the Trump administration’s increased focus on deporting undocumented immigrants, since churches are generally respected by immigration agents as off-limits.
Hernandez has a wife and two daughters – one of whom was born in the U.S., which generally kept him safe under the Obama administration’s directive that protected undocumented parents of citizen children.
The First Unitarian Church has also been a sanctuary haven for Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican national who took sanctuary at the church earlier this year when she was scheduled to be deported. Vizguerra was named as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year last week, and is one of at least two women in the Denver area currently in sanctuary.
In a Facebook video she posted Wednesday, she pleaded for Hernandez-Garcia’s release.
"We need for the community to get active, for the community to do something, and we need to join in this campaign. Today, we are all Arturo," she said.
Hernandez-Garcia’s detainment comes less than a week after an Aurora mother of four was deported and removed from the country without her children.