CONCORD -- A father and son set to be deported to Peru won a last-minute, temporary reprieve on Tuesday after an Illinois senator intervened on their behalf.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is delaying for a month the deportation of longtime Concord resident Arturo Rengifo, Sr., and his son, Arturo Rengifo, Jr.
"My mom is able to relax more," said the 24-year-old son, who would have left his mother and older brother in Concord had he been forced to take the one-way flight to Lima on Tuesday night. "She can actually breathe now. Hopefully more good things will happen, and I will be able to stay in this country."
The Rengifos are hoping a more lenient Obama administration deportation policy, announced on Aug. 18 but not yet implemented, could keep the family of four together in the Bay Area.
"I have more hope now; I have more faith now. I didn't pack my bags," said Arturo Rengifo, Jr., a student at Diablo Valley College and customer service representative at an AT&T store in Richmond. His father is a janitor, and the parents run a day care business at their home.
They applied for political asylum in the 1990s, but Arturo Rengifo, Sr., recently lost his case after several appeals.
News of the 30-day stay came to the family Tuesday morning from the office of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., which had made calls to immigration officers on the family's behalf.
"They just found out at 9 this morning they didn't have to leave at 10 tonight," said lawyer Rhoda Wilkinson Domingo. Before that, she said, the Rengifos "were having a meltdown."
Later in the morning, an immigration officer confirmed the information with the family's lawyer, but agents said the father and son must buy another one-way plane ticket to Lima on Sept. 29.
The 69-year-old father fears for his life in Peru, where he claims to have been threatened with violence by Shining Path guerrillas in the early 1990s.
His son, having lived in the United States since he was 6, said he does not know what he would do in the South American country if he had to return.
The family's lawyer says new Obama administration directives are reasons the Rengifos should stay. In mid-June, the director of immigration enforcement released a memorandum to agents instructing them to use more discretion in choosing which illegal immigrants to deport, taking special care in cases involving those brought to the country at a young age.
The Department of Homeland Security and the White House made the policy changes more explicit on Aug. 18 when they announced they will review all 300,000 pending cases, speeding up the deportation of felons and other high-priority cases but dropping thousands of cases against immigrants who are not a public safety threat. They said Monday that the case-by-case reviews have not yet begun.
Bay Area immigration lawyers have heard of a few anecdotal cases of immigration agents or judges halting a deportation since the June memo, and all of those involved illegal immigrants who are students or same-sex married spouses.
"We've heard overwhelmingly that ICE had not changed its behavior since that memo," said Katy Chase, a lawyer with the Northern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "It remains to be seen whether the new announcement is a continuation of the prior, largely ineffective memo, or a real effort to correct the lack of enforcement of the memo. Time will tell."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a breakfast forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C., that even after the agency implements the new policy, the rate of deportation of illegal immigrants will continue to be "very robust."