South Sound News

Lakewood man finds refuge from deportation in Seattle church

Just hours before Jose Robles was set to be deported for being in the U.S. illegally for 18 years, he was rushed into a Seattle church seeking refuge from immigration officials. Robles now lives with an uncertain future and so does his family.

Robles, from Mexico, is behind the doors of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle and the people who have given him sanctuary and refuge say he will stay there for the foreseeable future. The only thing that worries his supporters is if Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents decide to come through the doors of the church to apprehend him and move forward with deportation. A vigil for Robles was held at the church Thursday evening that attracted dozens of people to the Church’s main Sanctuary Hall.

Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant joined the vigil for Robles and summed up the attitude in the room: “Please join me in telling ICE and the Trump regime 'hands off Jose'.”

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Robles addressed the crowd in Spanish, thanking them and saying that he felt he had no choice but to ask for refuge in the church. Robles’ daughter Brenda, said the notion of him living in the church apart from his young daughters was something they were still trying to reconcile.

“I think it's absurd that we're here (at the church). There's no reason why we should be here,” she said.

Brenda says that her father rushed to the church early Thursday morning. They made the decision an hour before he was supposed to be on a flight to Mexico.

Robles came to the U.S. with his family illegally 18 years ago -- and according to his attorney and his family has no severe criminal history. Brenda Robles says they’ve worked on getting her father legal status for nearly a decade. Brenda Robles is a DACA recipient as is Robles' 19-year-old daughter. His 8-year-old daughter is a citizen.

“We've been fighting my dad's case for eight years and we just keep getting denied. There's absolutely no reason we should be denied,” Brenda Robles said.

Robles was recently the victim of an armed robbery and helped Lakewood police solve the crime. That qualified him to apply for a U-Visa.

He was denied. When KIRO 7 asked the city of Lakewood, we were told state law prevents them from discussing the case. Pastor Joanne Enqguist of Gethsemane Lutheran Church says Robles will stay in the church without his family --, hoping for a resolution that will keep them together. "It's a religious community so ICE should stay out, but I have much less trust…"
Brenda Robles also lacks trust in the immigration authorities. "We're afraid at any point in time they can just come in and take him in and separate a family."

KIRO 7 reached out to ICE to see if they plan to enter the church to detain Robles. The agency did not give KIRO 7 a direct answer and directed KIRO 7 to guidelines the agency uses for dealing with "sensitive" locations, which include churches. ICE says enforcement at sensitive locations are generally avoided unless there are certain specific circumstances.