ISRAEL RESENDIZ Hernandez, a Norristown businessman and father of two young girls, is afraid to return to his native Mexico because of "gangster-type" threats against his family, his immigration lawyer said yesterday.

Resendiz, 34, passed a "reasonable-fear interview" with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officer.

But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are keeping him locked up in the Pike County Correctional Facility.

Thomas Griffin, Resendiz's lawyer, said at a protest yesterday that Resendiz should be allowed to stay in this country "to protect him from human-rights violations, a threat to his life in Mexico."

Griffin and Resendiz's common-law wife, Pilar Molina, 29, said Resendiz believes that his father, who was found dead in a ravine in Mexico, was killed. And one of Resendiz's brothers was shot and injured by a gang member, Molina said.

They acknowledge that Resendiz had repeatedly crossed from Mexico into the U.S. illegally and had received a formal deportation order. But they say he should be released from ICE custody so he can fight deportation while living at home in Norristown.

About 15 people attended yesterday's protest, organized by the Latino-advocacy group Juntos, outside the ICE building at 16th and Callowhill streets.

Nicole Navas, an ICE spokeswoman in Washington, said in an email that Resendiz is being held in ICE custody because "after he illegally re-entered the United States after being removed, his final order of removal was reinstated and his custody is mandatory."

Thomas Decker, field-office director for ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations in Philadelphia, wrote a letter May 1 telling Resendiz he is being held because he has "shown a history of disregard for the immigration laws of the United States as is evident by your multiple illegal entries."

The letter also says that Resendiz is "considered a flight risk as you have purposely evaded immigration controls at the U.S. border on at least two occasions."

Griffin, who gave a copy of the letter to reporters, said Resendiz is not a flight risk. "He only crosses the border to go to one place, to Norristown, to be with his wife and family," the lawyer said.

Resendiz has been in ICE custody since Jan. 27, when he was nabbed in Norristown by ICE agents after he and Molina left the grocery store he owns.

He had gone back to Mexico in October after his father died.

When Resendiz illegally crossed into the U.S. in November, he was caught by border agents in Arizona and was issued a formal order of deportation. He was sent back to Mexico, but returned into this country, crossing the border illegally, in December and made his way back to his family in Norristown.

Resendiz faces an initial hearing before an immigration judge today on his claims of reasonable fear of returning to Mexico. He will appear by televideo before a judge in York County Prison, Griffin said.

Because of Resendiz's history of illegal crossings, he cannot apply for asylum, Griffin said. But he will go through the asylum process and can be granted "protection from removal," meaning he could be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally and be allowed to work, Griffin said. That decision could be months away.

Molina, brought into this country illegally by her mother when she was 7, has been allowed to remain here under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The couple's two girls, Caitlin, 9, and Ariana, 3, were born in this country and are U.S. citizens.