Arrested in January, Israel Resendiz Hernandez spent 144 days in Pennsylvania jails - some on a hunger strike - as he faced deportation to Mexico for illegally entering the United States last fall.
On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials allowed Resendiz to return to his wife and daughters in Norristown. He remains in jeopardy but is free, pending his request for asylum. A hearing on his case is scheduled for August.
He came home to a jubilant reception at Tortilleria la Familia, the family's grocery in the heavily Mexican-immigrant western end of the municipality. Amid piñatas, green streamers, and balloons, Resendiz, 34, was greeted by his 29-year-old wife, Pilar Molina; daughters Caitlin, 9, and Ariana, 3; and about 20 supporters.
Previous efforts had failed to win his release. He refused food for 19 days to bring attention to his case. Supporters spotlighted it with civil disobedience, blocking ICE prisoner vans. In February, his wife was arrested in a protest in front of the White House.
What seemed to work this time was a filing last week by his Philadelphia attorney, Thomas Griffin. With letters from doctors, psychologists, and Caitlin's teacher, it argued that Resendiz's family had suffered without him.
The documents show Molina was hospitalized for five days in May with "suicidal ideation." Caitlin was diagnosed with insomnia, and depression and anxiety due to her father's absence, and "thought of cutting herself and starving herself," records show.
Previously, ICE said Resendiz had to be jailed because he was a flight risk. The order releasing him this week did not cite a reason.
Resendiz was 17 when he came to the U.S. and found work in Norristown. Molina was brought here from Mexico illegally as a child and graduated from Norristown High School in 2003. She is a lawful U.S. resident, having been granted status under the federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The daughters are U.S. citizens.
When he returned home Thursday after six months away, the girls began to cry.
Molina said her oldest daughter got on her knees and thanked Jesus. "But she knows this is not the end," said Molina. "We still have to fight it."
Resendiz, a construction contractor, faces charges of repeatedly crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, including a trip for his father's funeral last fall. On his way back to the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol in Arizona and deported without a hearing. He sneaked back into the United States and was nabbed in Norristown on Jan. 27.
In his letter to officials, Griffin said the family's suffering need not be prolonged to ensure that Resendiz shows up for trial.
"The only reason he is in the United States," wrote Griffin, "is to be with Pilar and the children."