Christianity

Immigrant receives church sanctuary to avoid deportation

A native of Ecuador living in Connecticut has become the second person this summer to take sanctuary inside a New Haven church to avoid deportation.

Marco Reyes Alverez entered the U.S. illegally in 1997 and has been living in Meriden. The father of three was supposed to board a plane to Ecuador on Tuesday but instead took refuge inside the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church.

"The decision of not traveling was for security," Reyes said through a translator during a news conference at the church Tuesday evening.

His supporters say a family member was recently murdered in Ecuador and Reyes fears for his life if he returns.

Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials agreed to reconsider the case of Norwalk resident Nury Chavarria after she took sanctuary inside New Haven's Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal church rather than board a plane for Guatemala.

ICE has had a policy directing agents not to enter church grounds to make arrests except under special orders from a supervisor.

About 800 churches in the U.S. have agreed to be sanctuaries, up from about 400 a year ago, according to the organization Church World Service, which helps immigrants obtain legal status in the U.S.

Reyes' attorney, Erin O'Neil-Baker, said she has filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeal to reopen Reyes' case.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Reyes deserves to have a hearing on that appeal before a final decision is made on whether to deport him.

"ICE should be focusing on people who pose a danger to the United States, people with criminal records, people who are a threat to the community, not people like Marco Reyes," the Connecticut Democrat said.

The agency said in a statement that Reyes had been granted numerous stays to allow him to appeal a 2009 deportation order but was ordered to leave the country when his latest appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeal was denied.

"A federal immigration judge's orders cannot be ignored," said Shawn Neudaur, a spokesman for the agency. "ICE and the courts can delay acting on an order to ensure all applicable legal processes and possible benefits are followed and/or reviewed, which occurred in this case. However, after these legal options are exhausted, ICE must still carry out the judge's order in the absence of any other mitigating factors."

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This story has been corrected to show the man's name is Marco Reyes Alverez, not Marco Reyes, and the U.S. agency is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, not Customs and Immigration.