- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A group of Kansas City religious leaders asked federal officials Wednesday to release a 41-year-old father of two who is being held for immigration violations and could face deportation from the U.S., where he has lived for more than a decade.

Josue Noe Sandoval-Perez was arrested earlier this month and has been held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Jan. 22.

Andrew Kling, spokesman for Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City faith-based nonprofit, said Sandoval-Perez has a wife, a 17-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. Sandoval-Perez’s children are in the country legally, while Sandoval-Perez, who works in a Kanas City area metal scrapyard, and his wife, are in the U.S. illegally, Kling said.

“Basically this comes down to: Are the interests of the U.S. served by breaking up this family?” Kling said. He said CCO is asking ICE to reconsider Sandoval-Perez’s case and release him to his family.

“The kids are one bad traffic stop away from becoming orphans,” he said.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama renewed his pitch for legislation to overhaul U.S. immigration laws. But many Republicans oppose Obama’s plan for creating a pathway to citizenship for people like Sandoval-Perez and the 11 million other people already in the U.S. illegally. Bipartisan legislation has passed the Senate, but the House prefers a piecemeal approach. House Republicans are expected to outline their principles for an immigration overhaul this week.

ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the immigrations agency is considering a formal request from Sandoval-Perez’s lawyer to stay his deportation. But he said Sandoval-Perez, who came into ICE custody after he was arrested by Kansas City police on Jan. 16 for alleged theft, is an ICE “enforcement priority,” because he was deported once in 1998 to Mexico and came back to the U.S. illegally.

“ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement by implementing the following removal priorities: convicted criminals, those who re-entered the United States after having been previously removed, and those who have outstanding deportation orders,” Neudauer said in an email.

Several members of local churches, including Deacon Tom Powell of St. Anthony Parish, where the Sandoval-Perez family attends mass, on Wednesday presented a letter at the ICE office asking that Sandoval-Perez be released.

“Exemplary parents like Josue, who have been long-term members of our community and who enrich and contribute to our lives are not intended to be high priority of deported by ICE,” said the letter, which was signed by more than a dozen Kansas City area religious leaders.