A man taking shelter in a Seattle church to avoid deportation is not giving up.
Jose Robles came to Gethsemane Lutheran Church nearly two weeks ago, the same day he was scheduled to board a flight to Mexico.
Robles had lived in the U.S. for 18 years and is the father of three girls. He runs a small painting company in Lakewood.
“In this situation, I find myself in, is one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to face,” said Robles through an interpreter.
His immigration fight began years ago after several traffic violations.
Robles is able to shelter at the church because of an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement policy on "sensitive locations." Generally, it means ICE agents refrain from conducting arrest at places like schools, medical center, and places of worship.
An ICE spokesperson sent the following statement:
“ICE initially encountered Jose Robles-Martinez in 2010 following an arrest on local charges at the Pierce County Jail. Mr. Robles-Martinez is a native and citizen of Mexico who was ordered removed by an immigration judge in 2013. Since then, ICE has granted Mr. Robles-Martinez year-long stays of removals three separate times. ICE also allowed him an additional 90-days to prepare for his departure so that his children could finish the school year.”
“Determinations regarding the manner and location of arrests are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration all aspects of the situation, including the target’s criminal history, safety considerations, the viability of the leads on the individual’s whereabouts, and the nature of the prospective arrest location.”
“We support Jose, a hard-working, faith-filled and family oriented man who has worked here for 18 years,” said Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
“Family has always come first for me, and this is why it’s tearing my heart apart,” said Robles. “I love my daughters and my wife, and I can see how this is affecting them, especially my youngest daughter Natalie.”
“I can’t get much sleep,” Natalie said. “Can’t eat that much. It’s all from this problem.”
Robles’ attorney, Sandy Restrepo, said she sees two primary options going forward – either they get an emergency stay of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals, or a signature from Lakewood Police certifying him the victim of a violent crime. Then they believe he could qualify for a U.S. visa.
“Some sanctuary cases have lasted six to nine months, so we’re not sure what the timeline is exactly right now,” said Restrepo. “But if Lakewood doesn’t sign, it’d really be up to my client to decide how long he’d want to be in sanctuary.”
She added that his supporters tried to deliver pens to Lakewood PD – a symbol of the signature he needs. They said they were turned away.
Without some new development, Robles’ foreseeable future will take place inside the church.
“This has been the most impactful and our family has been very damaged psychologically because of this,” Robles said.
Lakewood Police did not initially return a request for comment. Previously, the department told KING 5 it could not discuss someone’s immigration status, so it couldn’t comment on the issue.