PHOENIX — The father of a 5-year-old boy battling cancer has returned to his home in the Phoenix area after federal immigration authorities Monday backed off attempts to deport him to Mexico.
Jesus Berrones, 30, the father of five American children, including a 5-year-old with leukemia, sought sanctuary inside a north Phoenix church Friday after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told him to report Monday to be immediately deported.
But on Monday afternoon, his lawyer, Garrett Wilkes, received a call from ICE advising him that the agency had granted Berrones a one-year stay of removal.
"I feel like I am a free man, happy and so thankful with God that he granted this miracle," Berrones said.
Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman, confirmed in a written statement that through an "exercise of discretion," Berrones has been granted a one-year stay of removal on humanitarian grounds.
ICE issued a previous one-year stay in June 2016, the statement said. Berrones, who had received a final order of removal, remains enrolled in the agency's Alternatives to Detention program, which requires him to regularly check in with the local ICE office, the statement said.
'He started crying'
Wilkes said he believes ICE reversed course because of media attention.
Wilkes was with Berrones at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ when they received the call.
"He started crying, then his daughter started crying," Wilkes said of Berrones.
Berrones has lived in the U.S. since he was 18 months old and said he was brought here illegally by his mother from San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Shortly after the call from ICE, Berrones left the church and returned home to celebrate with his wife, Sonia Garcia. The family lives in Glendale, just over the Phoenix line.
"I was actually super, super excited. I was so shocked when his lawyer told us" ICE had granted the stay, said Garcia, 24.
Berrones' five children are all U.S. citizens: two from a previous relationship and three with Garcia, who is pregnant.
Their son Jayden was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016. After more than a year of treatment, he still has two more years left, including taking chemotherapy pills several times a day and monthly visits to Phoenix Children's Hospital, Berrones said.
Garcia, however, cannot give him the pills because handling or being near the drugs could endanger her pregnancy.
Notice reflected shift in policy
Last week, ICE officials told Berrones to report to the Phoenix ICE office after initially denying a request for a stay to deportation.
Wilkes had said ICE's attempt to deport Berrones showed the shift in policy under the Trump administration, which has greatly expanded deportation priorities. Under the Obama administration, ICE granted Berrones a stay of removal and allowed him to remain free with a work permit.
The one-year stay granted Monday will allow Berrones to receive a work permit and remain in the U.S. while he tries to have his deportation case reopened so he can apply to remain in the country legally through his U.S. citizen wife, Wilkes said. The couple married in January.
Berrones said he plans to return to his job cleaning air-conditioning ducts and upholstering furniture to support his family.
ICE tries to deport dad of child with cancer
Berrones said even though he grew up in the U.S., he previously had no way to legalize his status.
He attended school in Phoenix since he was in kindergarten. He said the only close relative he has in Mexico is his father, who he does not know.
Previously deported twice
Wilkes said Berrones was caught driving with a fake driver's license in 2006, after a traffic stop when he was a minor. He pleaded guilty to a felony charge of solicitation of forgery, which resulted in him being returned to Mexico when he was 17 or 18.
He returned illegally to the U.S. two weeks later but was removed again in 2010, Wilkes said, adding that Berrones again returned illegally.
ICE encountered him again in February 2016. He was sentenced to 90 days in federal prison on a criminal misdemeanor charge, ICE officials said.
In May 2016, he was transferred to ICE custody after completing his sentence. In June of that year, ICE granted him a one-year stay of removal. He was released on an order of supervision, ICE officials said.
In December 2017, ICE placed him in the agency's Alternatives to Detention Program, which required him to regularly check in with the agency.
Wilkes said previously that in June 2017, Berrones received a phone call from immigration officials asking him to come in for a check-in, which he did. During the check-in, ICE officials informed Berrones that he would be required to check in every six months, Wilkes said.
During his next check-in on Dec. 29, ICE officials informed Berrones that he would be deported in 30 days, which came as a shock, Wilkes said.
Wilkes said he asked ICE for another stay of removal, but ICE denied the stay Feb. 8 without explanation and told Berrones to show up at ICE's offices Monday to be deported to Mexico.
Follow Daniel González on Twitter: @azdangonzalez