A Seattle church helps an immigrant family stay together

On the day of his deportation to Mexico, Jose A. Robles finds refuge.

 

This article originally appeared on Crosscut, and is reproduced here with permission. 

In a scenario repeating itself across the country, a Seattle church has offered refuge to an undocumented immigrant at risk of deportation.

On June 28, Jose A. Robles, a 44-year-old husband and father of three girls, slept at Gethsemane Lutheran Church downtown. He found sanctuary on the same day he was supposed to board a plane headed for his home country of Mexico, a place he left 18 years ago. “He is safe here, and he is welcome here,” Gethsemane Pastor Joanne Engquist said to a crowd of supporters who attended a vigil at the church. She called deportation “an immoral action” that separates families.

“Our desire is to be a safe haven during a stormy time.”

The crowd erupted in applause.

There is a long history of churches operating as safe houses. The Bible refers to churches as cities of refuge where those accused of murder could safely await trial. In the 19th century, churches hid runaway slaves. In the 1980s, hundreds of churches supported the so-called sanctuary movement in an attempt to save Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict from deportation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement generally avoids churches because they are considered “sensitive locations,” as are schools and hospitals. Gethsemane Lutheran, Engquist explained, voted to become a “sanctuary congregation” last April.

Robles, who had been living in Lakewood with his family, co-owns a painting company with his brother Victor. He’s been fighting the deportation process for eight years, ever since he was caught driving with a suspended license.

Jose Robles of Lakewood sits with his three daughters at a ceremony at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle. The church has offered him sanctuary from deportation to Mexico. June 28, 2018.

In April, Robles and his brother were held at gunpoint and thrown into the bathroom of a barbershop that was robbed. Attorney Sandy Restrepo says Robles could now be eligible for a U visa — visas that are set aside for victims of crimes who have assisted law enforcement in an investigation — that would halt the deportation proceedings.

So far, Lakewood city officials have declined to grant Robles the visa. City of Lakewood Communications Manager Brynn Grimley said state law prohibits her from speaking about Robles’ case. But she added the city had received 14 U visa applications this year. Of those, seven were certified by the City Attorney’s Office and granted; seven were denied.

On Thursday, Robles had been feeling “all stressed out,” he said in Spanish. He arrived to Gethsemane with his wife and three daughters, two of whom are recipients of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: Brenda, 24, and Yuritzy, 19.

His youngest daughter, 8-year-old Natalie, is a U.S. citizen. Wearing a salmon-colored sweatshirt and sporting a ponytail with glasses, she stood in front of the altar while she and others in the pews waved white candles, chanting, “Not one more!” — referring to the deportation of immigrants.  “This is the only option I had to be with my family,” Jose Robles explained at the vigil, “because immigration has denied everything else.”

Supporters have donated money to the Robles family. They said they would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Lakewood Assistant City Attorney Kimberly Cox to ask that Robles be allowed to remain in the U.S.

In the meantime, Robles will remain at the church.  

“As long as I am somewhere family can visit, I’m fine,” Robles said, noting that there may be days when his wife and youngest daughter join him.

He said he hoped to make himself useful, perhaps even by applying a fresh coat of paint on some of the church walls. “If they’re helping me, I can also lend a hand,” he said.

Rev. Beth Chronister of University Unitarian Church said Robles has reason to hope. Chronister pointed to examples of undocumented immigrants who sought sanctuary in churches and were eventually allowed to stay in the U.S. Jeanette Vizguerra, for example, an undocumented mother of four who took sanctuary in a Denver church to avoid deportation, was granted a two-year stay in 2017.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.