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Social Justice

After three years of sanctuary in Seattle church, Mexican man finally free to leave

A man speaks from a podium in a church.
Lilly Ana Fowler
Jaime Rubio Sulficio speaks Monday at a news conference at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Seattle. Sulficio took sanctuary in the church in 2019 when he feared being deported.

A Mexican immigrant who had taken sanctuary in a Seattle church for almost three years out of fear of deportation announced he is finally able to leave and reunite with family.

Jaime Rubio Sulficio says in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling and an appeals process, he is no longer a priority for deportation.

Jaime Rubio Sulficio
Lilly Ana Fowler
Jaime Rubio Sulficio

The Biden administration has also issued new guidelines for immigration officials, noting that undocumented immigrants without a criminal history should no longer remain a priority for deportation.

In 2019, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Capitol Hill took in Sulficio out of fear of family separation. Sulficio’s 8-year-old son and wife are both U.S. citizens. Sulficio, 40, has lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. He became a dance instructor and built a plastering and drywall company.

He says he doesn’t have a criminal record, but years ago after traveling to Mexico to see his sick mother he was threatened with deportation upon returning to this country. He had been applying for stays of deportation ever since, but under the Trump administration, his last application was denied.

Sulficio felt staying at the Capitol Hill church was his only choice and says he has tried to make the most of his time there.

"You know, for men to be happy, you need someone to love and something to do and something to be proud of. And I fulfilled those three elements while being here," he said, noting that he helped with construction and other chores around the church as much as he could.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, generally avoids churches because they are considered “sensitive locations,” as are schools and hospitals.

Now that he’s free to leave, Sulficio says his priority is his son.

“So many people ask me where I would like to go, what place I want to visit after being in sanctuary for so long. And I just have one answer: My biggest wish is to take my son to the park,” Sulficio said to a round of applause Monday at a news conference at St. Mark's.

Later, during the news conference, Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, turned to Sulficio and said: "In your perseverance and humility ... you have taught us to be people of hope."

Sulficio's wife, Keiko Maruyama, who suffers from epilepsy, says she’s relieved her husband has the opportunity to remain in the country.

“The fear eats you, you know. Every part of you. And the anxiety is really hard,” Maruyama said through tears.

Maruyama says she hopes “someday in the future that we don’t have to feel fear and feel free to go outside without worry that someone is watching.”

Sulficio says it will take some time to rebuild his life, including his business and finding housing for himself and his family.

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