A Norristown, Pennsylvania, man who went on a 19-day hunger strike earlier this year to protest his prolonged immigration detention has been reunited with his family.
Israel Resendiz-Hernandez was released from York County Jail Thursday after 144 days of incarceration to rejoin his two children and his wife, Pilar Molina. He was back at work on Friday.
Reached by phone, his wife said the reunion has been tearful.
“My daughter is like having a sleepover in my own room. They just, you know, they keep looking at him,” Molina said, “My oldest daughter was crying with joy. She just can’t believe that her daddy is back.”
The immigrant detainee refused food for 19 days in February while his wife was arrested in front of the White House for civil disobedience while protesting his detention.
Resendiz-Hernandez is applying for asylum and, while in detention, he passed what’s called a “credible fear” interview, suggesting he has legitimate reasons for not returning to Mexico.
Advocates say too many nonviolent offenders are held for long periods because of a congressional mandate to fill detention beds.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement had considered Resendiz-Hernandez a flight risk in the past.
In a statement concerning Resendiz-Hernandez’s release, ICE spokesman Harold Ort said, “ICE routinely exercises prosecutorial discretion when prioritizing cases for removal, and considers a number of factors in a case when making decisions at at all stages of the immigration enforcement process.”
These include family ties and length of stay in the country. Resendiz-Hernandez, now 34, arrived in the U.S. at the age of 17. His wife and children are citizens.
He had been considered an ICE priority for deportation because he had re-entered the country illegally multiple times, including after a trip to Mexico to attend his father’s funeral. He remains in deportation proceedings and under close supervision.
The family reunion has been bittersweet. Resendiz-Hernandez’s brother, Jovito, who also took part in the hunger strike, was deported to Mexico in April.