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ICE Arrests Immigrant With No Criminal History Who Was Called 'Not A Priority'

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4) - Ana Sauzameda stood 200 feet from the red stone building where immigration agents were holding her husband knowing it may be the closest she ever gets to him.

"It's a real sadness. A sense of impotence to not be able to do anything, to not be able to do anything for him," Sauzameda said through an interpreter.

On Wednesday morning, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement were waiting at a warehouse on 51st Avenue and Havana Street for 44-year-old Arturo Hernandez Garcia. Witnesses say the agents were in plain clothes and hid their identification when they called out to Arturo. When he responded to his name, the agents took him into custody.

Ana Sauzameda (credit: CBS)

"They had their badge reversed so you couldn't see it," Sauzameda said.

Hernandez Garcia was not wanted by police and did not have a criminal record of any kind. In 2010 he was arrested under false claims that he threatened to assault a rival contractor. Hernandez Garcia was acquitted of the crime, but the case got the attention of an immigration court that ordered him to leave the country for overstaying the visa he was granted in 2003.

He refused to leave, having two grade school children who are American citizens. Instead he sought asylum at the First Unitarian Church in Denver, as supporters petitioned the Obama administration to allow him to stay. Nine months after seeking refuge he received a letter from ICE saying he was no longer a priority for deportation.

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Arturo Hernandez walked out of a Denver church in July 2015 after 9 months of seeking sanctuary (credit: CBS)

"We received a letter from immigration saying I'm not a priority for deportations," Hernandez Garcia said to a cheering crowd in 2015.

Hernandez Garcia is being held at the ICE facility in Centennial and there is no timetable for his deportation.

Under President Trump, Homeland Security has started deporting undocumented immigrants with any level of criminal conviction regardless if the crime was minor or violent.

On April 12th Maria de Jesus Jimenez Sanchez, who had been in the country for two decades and has three American-born children, was arrested at her immigration status check-in. Her only criminal conviction was a 2012 charge for driving without a license. ICE denied her petition to stay in the country after she had been granted three previous stays of deportation. She was deported to Mexico this week.

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Arturo Hernandez stands on the front of the church steps with his supporters (credit: CBS)

The offices of both U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman were notified of the case, but there's little either could do. While condemning the Trump policy expanding deportations, Coffman said the administration should allow undocumented immigrants with minor convictions to pay a fine and receive status to allow them to stay. Coffman said the only long-term solution is for Congress to take up immigration reform.

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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