- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MIAMI (AP) - Immigrant rights groups pleaded Wednesday for federal officials to halt the deportation of a Nicaraguan man appealing for asylum and demanded an investigation into an alleged increase in detentions when immigrants show up for routine appointments in South Florida.

Espilvio Sanchez-Benavidez faced deportation after appearing at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office near Fort Lauderdale for a regular check-in, his family says.

“He wasn’t afraid. It was a routine check-in, and nothing had ever happened,” said Wendy Garcia, his Honduran wife and mother of his 3-year-old daughter who was born in the U.S. But five hours after her husband’s appointment, Garcia received a frantic phone call saying he was detained and was going to be deported.

The 25-year-old man applied for asylum in 2013 when he arrived through the Mexico border after receiving death threats following the killing of two relatives. A decision is pending after Sanchez-Benavidez appealed when asylum was denied in 2015 for lack of evidence.

He is not the only one detained while checking in with ICE. Activists rallied by Washington-based organization United We Dream on Wednesday submitted a document bearing more than 9,500 signatures to U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo of Florida, asking them to help free Sanchez-Benavidez and to probe an alleged spike in detentions after routine check-ins at the South Florida ICE office.

After the demonstration, activists said they learned the man was deported earlier on Wednesday. Immigration authorities didn’t immediately confirm the report.

People with deportation orders or pending immigration cases are obligated to show up for regular visits with ICE. Until now, their deportations generally have been delayed if they were in good standing. But advocates and lawyers are noticing an increase in detentions.

“It’s outrageous that people who are looking to be free, asylees and refugees are being detained and deported by this administration,” said Ricardo Campos, regional director of United We Dream.

Maytee Sanz, congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen’s chief of staff, said on Wednesday that her office received reports of five cases this week of people checking in with ICE with an order of supervision who were detained and are now facing deportation. “The potential for detention and deportation has always been there. I think that five cases in one week is certainly something new. It’s not that we haven’t seen it before but certainly not five cases within that same week,” Sanz said.

One of them is Charles Rodriguez, a 40-year-old Nicaraguan church minister, who checked in with ICE on March 14 and was taken into custody. His wife Elissett Saenz received a call from him early Wednesday that he was set to be deported.

“He sounded terrified but he still has faith in God that things will be resolved,” she said holding their 1-year-old boy on her hip before breaking into tears.

An ICE spokesman said the agency doesn’t track detentions that result from check-ins and said that deportations are subject to ICE’s discretion.

“ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.

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Associated Press writer Gisela Salomon contributed to this report from Miami.

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