ICE detains Mexican man who spent 9 months seeking sanctuary in Denver church

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took Arturo Hernandez Garcia into custody while he was at work Wednesday morning.

He was the first to seek sanctuary in a Colorado church while fighting deportation. He came to the United States from Mexico with his wife and 3-month-old daughter in 2003. He did not leave when his visa expired.

A rally was held outside the ICE processing center Wednesday afternoon where people carrying signs asked for his release.

His wife held a sign that said "Please Don't Take My Husband."

Garcia's family said they didn't know why he was picked up.

"We had no idea this was going to happen," his wife said.

In 2014, Garcia became the first person to seek sanctuary from deportation in Colorado. He spent nine months in a church in Denver.

In 2015, he received a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that said he wasn't a priority for enforcement. So he left the church and returned to his home in Denver with his wife and kids.

"Nothing has changed in his case. He still has no criminal record. He's still just been working. He's still a small-business owner. He still has two kids. One of whom is a citizen, the other of whom is scheduled to graduate on May15," said Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee.

Piper said Garcia has had no contact with police or ICE agents in nearly two years until they showed up at his job Wednesday morning.

"Our system does not allow them to get in a line. There is no line for people like Arturo," Piper said.

Hernandez has had a standing order of deportation against him after being arrested for a fight at work several years ago. At trial, he was found not guilty but was still ordered to leave the country.

That's what he fought against and why he went into sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society. It's also what he thought he had overcome.

"He left sanctuary because he felt like it was a good-faith gesture on their part that they understood that he wasn't a risk to the community, that he wasn't someone they needed to be enforcing policies against. So he fulfilled his end of the bargain," Piper said.

Garcia does not have a criminal record that could be found. ICE did not return calls as to why Garcia was detained.

His family and supporters said they will stay outside the ICE processing center until they learn his fate.

Piper said they are hoping ICE will issue Hernandez a stay of deportation, and recognize the strength of the community and family he has behind him.