CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Arturo Hernandez Garcia, the first to seek sanctuary in a Colorado church while fighting deportation, was detained Wednesday because of a final order of removal issued by a judge.
Agents found Hernandez Garcia outside his workplace and took him into custody, to the surprise of his family and activists.
Hernandez Garcia entered the U.S. from Mexico at El Paso, Texas, in 2003 on a six-month visitor visa. ICE said it first encountered him after he was arrested in March 2010 for a fight at work.
In October 2012, a judge granted Hernandez Garcia’s request for a 60-day voluntary departure, but he did not return to Mexico as he agreed to by Dec. 1, 2012.
In 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Hernandez Garcia’s appeal of the judge’s decision but extended the voluntary departure to April 28, 2014.
A final order of removal became effective April 29, 2014, when he failed to follow the court order, ICE said. Applications for stays of removal were denied in 2014 and 2015.
In 2014, Garcia became the first person to seek sanctuary from deportation in Colorado, spending 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.
He had been living and working in Denver until his surprise detainment on Wednesday.
“Hernandez Garcia has overstayed his original six-month visa by nearly 14 years,” ICE said in a statement. “He has exhausted his petitions through the immigration courts and through ICE.”
Hernandez Garcia is being held at the ICE processing center in Centennial pending his removal.
While ICE focuses on individual who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, new U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly “has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
“Anyone in violation of immigration laws and if found removable by final order will be detained and removed from the country,” ICE said in a statement.
ICE said over the past five fiscal years, 41 percent to 45 percent of undocumented immigrants with total removals had no previous criminal convictions.
“While the United States welcomes lawful immigrants and visitors, our borders are not open to illegal migration,” ICE said. “Those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, or who have violated the terms of their visas, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, have no pending appeal, and do not qualify for relief, must be removed.”