TUCSON, Arizona – Daniel Neyoy Ruiz spends his days and nights living behind a steel-barred door. Meals are brought to him; his young son comes to visit.
This 12 by 15 foot room isn’t jail; it’s what it takes for Neyoy to be free in America. Facing deportation after a driving infraction, Neyoy found safe haven in a place he’s called home his whole life: the church.
“I never thought that this would happen,” Neyoy said. “I say this is better than being locked in (prison). Because there you are really locked. Here people can come visit you, they bring you food, we have all the comforts that you need.”
Every day that Congress stalls on immigration reform, thousands of undocumented immigrantsare put under threat of deportation. Desperate to keep families together and to protect their flock, a growing number of religious leaders are putting themselves between individuals at risk and the authorities that want them removed.
There is evidence that it is working. Immigration officials are holding back from seizing individuals under church protection.
“It’s up to the religious leaders to step into that gap and to bring a moral voice to what’s going on, and try to remind our politicians that while you’re playing politics in D.C., real families are being affected,” said Rev. Alison Harrington, standing outside Neyoy’s converted bedroom.
The space, just big enough for a bunk bed, a mini-fridge and a few chairs, is slightly larger than the average American prison cell. It used to be Harrington’s office.
Defining ‘more humane’ deportations
Like many undocumented immigrants caught in deportation proceedings, Daniel Neyoy wasn’t a target for law enforcement.
He and his wife Karla were newlyweds when they left Mexico 14 years ago. Their son Carlos, born in Tucson a year later, just finished the 7th grade and plans to try out for his school’s football team in the fall.
The family home, along the outskirts of Tucson, is a stone’s throw away from where Karla’s sister, mom and grandmother live. Daniel has had a steady job, and paid taxes.
But in 2011, he was pulled over by a highway patrolman because the car was emitting too much exhaust. The local law enforcement flagged Neyoy to Border Patrol after he was unable to present government-issued identification. He was thrown into a holding cell for several nights and later spent 30 days in a detention center.