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US detains immigrant after he spends year in Seattle church

TUKWILA, Wash. — An immigrant who has spent the past year inside a Seattle church to avoid being deported to Mexico was detained Wednesday after presenting himself to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The arrest prompted protests from a crowd of supporters who had accompanied Jose Robles, 44, to ICE offices in the suburb of Tukwila, where he intended to apply for a stay of deportation. His wife and two of his daughters, the youngest of whom is a U.S. citizen, joined Robles, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years.

Robles was ordered deported in 2013 following two arrests in a misdemeanor domestic violence cases that were later dismissed, The Seattle Times reported.

A federal appeals court temporarily put his deportation on hold, and he has a pending application for a U-visa, which can be granted to immigrants who are victims of crime. Robles was pistol-whipped during a robbery at a barbershop where he was getting his hair cut in 2018, according to a police report.

His lawyer, Sandy Restrepo, said receiving sanctuary from Gethsemane Lutheran Church and ignoring ICE requests to report to officials could jeopardize his visa application. Robles knew he faced possible detention.

“I’m hoping to walk out and thank everybody,” Robles said before entering the building, his eyes reddening.

Instead, Restrepo came outside without him and said Robles had been detained.

A network of Seattle-area churches, synagogues and activists have rallied around Robles in recent years, making him a local symbol of the sanctuary movement as President Donald Trump has cracked down on immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

“May the people he meets inside that building know he is not alone but has a community behind him,” the Rev. Beth Chronister of University Unitarian Church said as Robles reported to ICE.

ICE has said it granted Robles three stays of deportation, but last year it refused to grant him a fourth and ordered him to leave the country within three months. On the day he was due to fly out, he instead went to the church and received sanctuary.

ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman said Wednesday that the agency could not comment on Robles’ case, citing privacy concerns.

Restrepo stressed that Robles was never convicted of domestic violence and said he got counseling after the second case.

“Jose has made mistakes,” his lawyer said, adding that he’s a “huge part” of his family’s life.

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