TACOMA, Wash. — An immigration judge has found that an Astoria man detained by agents in December near the Clatsop County Courthouse is eligible for asylum over concerns about his safety if he were to return to Mexico.

Ruben Vera Perez, who appeared at a hearing at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on Tuesday, is also eligible to have his deportation canceled. He could qualify for a cancellation of removal — a legal procedure that would essentially end the deportation process — because his deportation would cause unusual hardship on his wife and children, who are all U.S. citizens, and because he has lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years.

Vigil

Gabriella Perez, left, attends a vigil for her grandfather, Ruben Vera Perez, who was detained by immigration agents in Astoria in December.

“There’s hope,” Maria Perez, his wife, said after the hearing.

Ruben Perez was detained after he appeared in Circuit Court to handle a probation matter related to a drunken-driving case. While driving to the county jail to check in with a pretrial release officer, Maria Perez said she was stopped by authorities in two unmarked vehicles who subsequently took her husband into custody.

Since then, local activists have been raising money to help support the family while he’s away. A vigil was held in January to bring attention to the nature of his detention. More than $1,000 has been raised on a GoFundMe page set up and circulated by Indivisible North Coast Oregon to help the family pay bills.

Maria Perez and her supporters have been working on getting Ruben Perez released on bond while his deportation is reviewed. Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones and former Mayor Arline LaMear have written letters to the immigration court in support of Perez, asking that he be brought back to the community.

Jones asked the immigration court to consider the economic impact of removing people like Ruben Perez at a time when workers are in short supply.

“Mr. Perez is an example of the type of ideal employee these local employers are seeking,” Jones wrote. “Removing him from the local labor pool has not benefited the community, region or nation in any way. On the contrary, it is another blow to our local economy.”

Perez’s detention has also put a local spotlight on a national controversy about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests at or near courthouses. Many judges and civil liberties advocates, including Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Clatsop County Circuit Court, have spoken out about these types of arrests, arguing it undermines the criminal justice system.

As the family waits for a bond hearing scheduled for later this month, Maria Perez said it’s a relief to know her husband has options.

“We’re going to take it one day at a time, and I’m trusting in God,” she said.

In the courtroom, Maria Perez and her daughter were able to lock eyes with Ruben Perez before the hearing adjourned. A moment of brief happiness quickly turned to tears.

“It felt good to see him,” Maria Perez said afterward. “But it’s hard knowing he isn’t walking out with us.”

Brenna Visser is a reporter for the Cannon Beach Gazette, Seaside Signal and The Daily Astorian. Contact her at 971-320-4558 or bvisser@dailyastorian.com.

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