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U.S. won't immediately deport man who took refuge in Arizona church

By Paul Ingram

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - U.S. Immigration and Customs officials will not immediately act to deport a Mexican immigrant who took refuge in an Arizona church to avoid an order of deportation from a country where he has lived illegally for over a decade and raised a family.

Daniel Neyoy Ruiz, 36, was ordered in April to report for voluntary deportation on Tuesday. But in a high profile challenge to U.S. immigration policy, he instead turned to a Tucson church whose leaders were involved in a movement to give sanctuary to refugees streaming to the country from wars in Central America in the 1980s.

"After conducting a thorough review of Mr. Ruiz's immigration case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has decided to exercise prosecutorial discretion by not taking immediate action on Mr. Ruiz's removal order," said Amber Cargile, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Federal immigration officials have focused their efforts on stopping illegal border crossings and deporting unauthorized immigrants arrested for crimes.

Under pressure from groups who say too many non-violent immigrants are caught in the system, President Barack Obama is expected to announce revisions in the coming weeks to U.S. deportation policy.

Neyoy Ruiz, who has a teenage son who is a U.S. citizen, is not the first immigrant to turn to a church for refuge from deportation. In 2006, Mexican immigrant activist Elvira Arellano famously entered a Chicago church and stayed there for a year, but was ultimately deported.

She has since returned to the United States and seeks to stay on humanitarian grounds.

The deportation order against Neyoy Ruiz stems from a 2011 traffic stop in which he was pulled over for a smoking tailpipe. Unable to produce identification, he was handed to U.S. Border Patrol and detained for a month. A lawyer fought the case for three years, but failed to request it be closed.

About a month ago, a letter arrived from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Neyoy Ruiz, giving him 30 days to appear for voluntary deportation before midnight on Tuesday. But he feared separation from his family.

An immigration spokeswoman said at the time the agency was "conducting a comprehensive review of Mr. Ruiz's case to determine appropriate next steps."

Margo Cowan, a lawyer for the family, said she had submitted a letter asking immigration officials to officially close the case. She said she had not yet received an official communication from immigration authorities, but expected the case to close soon.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)

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