Last night, May 2, Arturo Hernandez Garcia, a Mexican immigrant and former sanctuary seeker who was detained on April 26 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, received a temporary reprieve that will allow him to attend his daughter's graduation from high school. During this brief period of freedom, his attorney hopes to convince an appeals court to take another look at his case, which his supporters see as representing everything that's wrong and unjust about the current U.S. immigration system.
Hernandez Garcia, who owns a small flooring business that employs up to nine people, was the subject of the February 2015 Westword feature article "A Denver Church Joins a Nationwide Movement to Provide Sanctuary to Undocumented Immigrants." At the time, he was living in sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society in Denver — the same church at which fellow immigrant and Time magazine honoree Jeanette Vizguerra is currently staying — to avoid being deported.
According to an ICE statement released after his April detention, Hernandez Garcia first entered the U.S. in January 2003 on a six-month visitor visa, and he stayed off the agency's radar until March 2010, "following his arrest on local criminal charges." Specifically, he was busted after a white window installer said that he'd pulled a knife on him — a claim that flew in the face of witness testimony and was quickly rejected by a jury at trial.
By then, however, Hernandez Garcia had already spent thirty days in jail and fifteen more at an area immigration detention center before being freed on bond, and ICE subsequently pressed forward with detention procedures. He spent nine months at the church, leaving in July 2015 with the hope that the attention attracted by his situation, not to mention a private bill about his case introduced by Representative Ed Perlmutter, would result in his being able to stay in Colorado with his wife and two daughters — a seventeen-year-old allowed to remain here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and an eleven-year-old who's a U.S. citizen. But immigration enforcement ramped up after President Donald Trump took office, and Hernandez Garcia was nabbed at his workplace and taken into custody last week.
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Shortly thereafter, Senator Michael Bennet created another private bill for Hernandez Garcia, and the latter's attorney, Laura Lichter, believes her client still has legal options. "We are grateful that Mr. Hernandez has been granted a brief reprieve so he can attend his daughter’s high school graduation, as well as allow us time to ask an appeals court to revisit his case," Lichter says in a statement provided by the American Friends Service Committee, one of many organizations in his corner. "Mr. Hernandez and his family have been pursuing legal status in the United States for nearly a quarter of a century. If he were deported, it would be another decade before he would be able to realize that dream."
Lichter adds: "Our broken immigration system forces families to make unimaginable choices every day. While we hope to be successful for Arturo and his family, for many immigrants there is no solution. The shame is that this is exactly the absurd and cruel system that Congress created."
In a statement of his own, Hernandez Garcia is quoted as saying, "I want to thank my lawyer, Congressman Perlmutter and Senator Bennet for their efforts on my behalf. I am so grateful to all of the community members who prayed and demonstrated for me. I felt stronger as I left the ICE office in Centennial because I saw my family and community standing outside. I want to thank most of all my wife and daughters, who have fought so hard to keep our family together."