TUCSON, AZ - Daniel Neyoy Ruiz would rather be indefinitely confined to the inside of a church than move back to Mexico, as the federal government has requested he do.
Neyoy Ruiz, a 36-year-old maintenance supervisor at a Tucson apartment complex, refused to obey an order to leave the country by the end of Tuesday. Neyoy Ruiz entered the United States illegally in 2000. In 2011, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer turned Neyoy Ruiz over to immigration officials after pulling him over because his exhaust pipe released too much smoke, his attorney says.
He lost a series of immigration court cases and was ordered to leave the country.
Instead, he is taking sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson. His wife and American-born son will join him.
Although there is no law preventing immigration agents from taking Neyoy Ruiz into custody now, the church has been seen as a public sanctuary for immigrants for nearly three decades.
Neyoy Ruiz says he does not want to separate from his family, especially his 13-year-old son, who is an American citizen. He says he does not have a prior criminal record and contributes to his community and church.
"I want to be with my family to support them in everything I can," he said in Spanish. "I want to have a voice because it's not just me. There are a lot of people like this."
More than 20 percent of deportees claim to have American-born children.
Neyoy Ruiz's attorney, Margo Cowan, has filed an administrative request with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to close the case. That means that ICE would not make it a priority to deport Neyoy Ruiz and that he would continue to live in the U.S.
Cowan says she is confident ICE officials will close the case because the agency has shifted deportation priorities to immigrants with criminal records and prior deportations.
A spokeswoman for ICE said the agency was conducting a comprehensive review of the case.
Neyoy Ruiz says he will live in the church as long as it takes. He says fears of being separated from his family and the repercussions of ignoring the order to leave keep him awake at night.
"But I know-- I'm sure--that if I don't do this, it's going to be worse because I'm going to lose. I'm not going to throw in the towel," he said.