Seattle church offers sanctuary to father facing deportation

Jose Robles — who was scheduled to be deported Thursday morning and sought sanctuary at the church to stay with his family in the United States — addresses about 100 community members attending an interfaith vigil welcoming Robles to Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Photo by Jovelle Tamayo)

About 100 community members — including family, religious leaders and other supporters — gathered for a solidarity vigil Thursday night to welcome Jose Robles to Gesthsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle, where Robles is seeking sanctuary from deportation.

The Church Council of Greater Seattle organized the interfaith vigil, during which religious and community leaders demanded action to protect Robles and keep his family — his wife and three daughters — together.

Robles, who moved to the United States from his home country Mexico 18 years ago, was scheduled to be deported at 6 a.m. Thursday, and will stay at the church as his family works to keep him in the country.

According to his supporters, Robles would be eligible for temporary protection from deportation, after he became the victim of a robbery in Lakewood.

On Tuesday, Robles and his supporters pressured the city of Lakewood and Lakewood Police Department to sign the U-Visa Certification, which would allow him to stay in the country as a victim of a qualifying crime. Lakewood officials declined and said in a statement they are not allowed to share details of Robles’ case.

Representatives from Colectiva Legal de Pueblo, religious leaders and Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant urged attendees to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to grant Robles’ Stay of Deportation or Removal application, and demand Lakewood City Attorney Kimberly Cox to sign the U-Visa Certification.

“In Jose’s case, we have a very clear path to stop his deportation and keep him in the country. And there are very specific people who can do the right thing,” said Sandy Restrepo, Robles’ lawyer. “But we have to push them to do the right thing.”

Robles has been fighting deportation for eight years and spent time at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma before coming to Colectiva Legal de Pueblo in 2013, according to Restrepo. Colectiva Legal de Pueblo has filed five stay of removals for Robles since working with him and his family. The latest application was denied by a judge in February 2018.

About 100 community members attend a vigil welcoming Jose Robles to Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Photo by Jovelle Tamayo)

“There is no way that I can live without my family,” Robles said in a statement provided by the Church Council of Greater Seattle. ”This has been a difficult decision for our family, but it’s the only way to keep us together.”

The decision to come into sanctuary was not taken lightly, said Victoria Mena, policy director with Colectiva Legal de Pueblo.

“He won’t be able to go outside, he won’t be able go to the park, he won’t able to go to work,” Mena said. “He will be here, hoping the Lakewood Police Department changes their mind and does the right thing.”

Pastor Beth Chronister of University Unitarian Church shared the story of Arturo Hernandez, who took sanctuary for nine months at Chronister’s church in Denver before eventually being granted his stay.

“It’s about the practice of acting in solidarity,” Chronister said. “Of showing up to march, to bear witness, to listen and to follow. There is reason to hope.”

Robles, who owns a painting company, can no longer work and support his family because of the deportation proceedings. Pastor Joanne Engquist of Gesthsemane Lutheran invited attendees to support Robles’ family and help with the legal filing fees by donating.

“Families Belong Together,” an action against family separation, will take place at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 30.

An attendee holds a sign at a vigil welcoming Jose Robles to Gethsemane Lutheran Church. (Photo by Jovelle Tamayo)