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Phoenix church offers sanctuary to man about to be deported

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LISTEN: Garrett Wilkes, Attorney of a man given sanctuary at a local church

PHOENIX — A Phoenix church has given sanctuary to a man facing deportation for the third time, so he can remain with his sick child and pregnant wife.

Undocumented immigrant Jesus Berrones and his family were staying at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.

“I want them to give me a last chance to stay with my family and to be here with them, to support them, to help them so I can have a place for them to live and to fix my papers and to be here in good status in the United States,” Berrones said of why he sought refuge.

Berrones’ 5-year-old son has leukemia, he said, and since his five-months pregnant wife can’t touch the medication, Berrones gives the boy his medicine.

“If they can just understand what my son is going through, he really needs me here,” he said, adding that his son stayed with him at the church overnight Friday and Saturday.

Related: Relationship between ICE, immigrants at sanctuaries

His lawyer, Garrett Wilkes, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that Berrones had been granted a yearlong stay of removal in 2016 by the federal government but the next application was denied.

Berrones checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in December and was informed he would be deported in 30 days.

Court documents showed Berrones had been arrested as a teenager in 2006 for having a fake ID. He voluntarily went back to Mexico but came back illegally a short time later.

He was arrested on illegal re-entry charges in 2016. Wilkes said that conviction was set aside.

“We not asking ICE to stay his removal … we’re wanting ICE to give him a notice to appear, which means he has to start fighting his deportation in a court.

“… We’re just asking for an opportunity to allow the judicial process to take place.”

Related: Arizona churches offer immigrants sanctuary

Berrones was brought to Arizona as a toddler by his parents and attended Phoenix schools.

His 24-year-old wife is an American citizen.

Berrones’ voluntary removal as an adult disqualified him for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Wilkes said.

Now, Berrones and his family will be at the church for the foreseeable future.

Pastor Ken Heintzelman said there are two ways to look at the situation.

“On the one hand, you can say he’s been deported twice,” he said. “That is illegal reentry into the country. I understand that language.

“I think another way of looking at it is to say, ‘Here’s a father that is determined to be with his family, to take care of his family and especially to be here for his child, who is struggling for his life with cancer.'”

Heintzelman said the church sees offering some people refuge as the right thing to do.

“Sometimes, there are higher laws, higher principles of compassion and love that more legalistic minds can’t quite get their heads wrapped around,” he said.

According to the ICE website, churches, schools and hospitals were considered “sensitive locations” and officials avoid making arrests at those places if possible.

Arrests can be made under three circumstances: imminent danger to life and/or property, other law enforcement actions led ICE to the location or ICE had received prior approval from a designated supervisory official.

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline contributed to this report.

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