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Man who took sanctuary at St. Mark’s in Seattle no longer under threat of deportation

By Daisy Zavala Seattle Times

After almost three years of living under immediate risk of deportation, Jaime Rubio Sulficio recently learned that his case had been reopened by the government, granting him a second opportunity in his long battle to gain permanent residency in the U.S.

It also means that he can leave Seattle’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, which has provided him sanctuary since March 2019, without fear of being separated from his wife and 8-year-old son, both U.S. citizens.

“Because of all of you I feel strong and like I can do this,” Rubio Sulficio, a Mexican immigrant, told a crowd gathered at the cathedral Monday. He then took a moment to thank church leaders and the local organizations who helped him.

But as he celebrated the news about his case, Rubio Sulficio, 40, noted millions of people are still fighting against the nation’s immigration system for a better life and to keep their families intact.

“I can only look at the fathers and mothers who are being deported each day, they deserve to be recognized,” he said. “I will continue to advocate not only for me but for the millions of others who will not want to be separated from their loved ones.”

Rubio Sulficio, who came to the U.S. without legal status more than a dozen years ago, has been working to gain residency for more than a decade, he said.

In 2012, an immigration judge ordered Rubio Sulficio’s deportation, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement repeatedly granted him temporary stays, a consideration sometimes offered to immigrants with families that would suffer hardships if they left. His wife, Keiko Maruyama, has epilepsy.

But as ICE’s policies became stricter toward immigrants living illegally in the U.S. under the Trump administration, the agency said in November 2018 it would no longer renew Rubio Sulficio’s stay and he was given 120 days to leave the country.

In March 2019, he took sanctuary at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. ICE guidelines restrict arrests at “sensitive locations,” including places of worship, schools and hospitals.

“If I got deported I didn’t know when I’d see them again,” Rubio Sulficio said.

Rubio Sulficio and Maruyama, who’ve been married for 11 years, decided to leave their home and stay together at the church to provide consistency for their son who was 6 when Rubio Sulficio first sought sanctuary.

It was a difficult adjustment, Maruyama said. The couple used to split chores, but tasks that needed to be done outside the church grounds, like grocery shopping and taking their son to school, all fell on Maruyama, who was still working full time.

All the while they were trying their hardest to make sure their son did not feel uprooted from his life after having to switch schools, Maruyama added.

“It was stressful for Jaime and it was stressful for me, too,” Maruyama said.

Still, there were special moments for the family, Rubio Sulficio said. He taught his son to ride a bike on the church campus and couldn’t contain his excitement in seeing him take off without his assistance.

“Being here also made me realize how much I was missing because I was always working,” Rubio Sulficio said.

The sanctuary movement took off under the Trump administration, which restricted immigration and helped generate anti-immigrant policies and sentiments, said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

It’s about providing more than just a place to live, he said. It’s also about providing a sense of dignity and respect, while also extending health care, access to schooling and help to reenter the workforce, he said.

Jose Robles, also a Mexican immigrant, also sought sanctuary in Seattle’s Gethsemane Lutheran Church for a year. He then turned himself in to ICE and spent two years in detention. In March , he was released from the Northwest detention center in Tacoma as Biden immigration policies began scaling back on immigration enforcement.

The Seattle Times was not immediately able to reach his lawyer to update his current status.

David Yost, an ICE spokesperson, did not comment specifically on Rubio Sulficio’s case. He said the agency does not interfere with sanctuary laws due to ethical and governmental rules.

Reopening a case requires the office to review a decision based on new or additional facts, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Rubio Sulficio’s lawyer will be able to seek cancellation of his deportation order, opening the door for him to pursue permanent residence.

With the imminent risk of deportation no longer a threat were he to step off of the cathedral grounds, Rubio Sulficio said he plans to take his son to a park five minutes away. Nothing big is planned, he said, just something simple most people get to take for granted.

It may take months for the family to return to their Shoreline home, but they remain focused on making sure their son can have a smooth transition back into school and in all other areas of his life. Rubio Sulficio said he hopes to return to work and eventually reopen his business in construction he had to shut down.

Maruyama, Rubio Sulficio’s wife, said the family found unconditional support in advocates and church members alike. She was surprised to find support from strangers during a time in which some close friends cut ties after learning about the immigration struggles, she said.

But the work is not done, said Ramos of the church council. This is the first step in making sure Rubio Sulficio has permanent residency and his family feels safe, secure and free. St. Mark’s will continue to assist the family in every way as they transition and go through the system, he added.

“This news is a ray of light in a time of a lot of shadows,” Ramos said.