Immigrant receives church sanctuary to avoid deportation

NEW HAVEN -- A Meriden man from Ecuador, scheduled to be deported Tuesday, has entered sanctuary in a New Haven church.

Marco Reyes is currently staying at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on College Street. 

Crowds gathered at the front steps of the church to show their support. Senator Blumenthal, Councilman Miguel Castro and Mayor Toni Harp were a few to make an appearance. 

"Just to be clear, New Haven will remain a sanctuary city," said Mayor Toni Harp. 

Pastor Juhye Hahn said she got a text message at 2:30 a.m. asking if she can open her church doors for Marco. 

"Someone needs sanctuary at 6 a.m.," said Pastor Hahn. 

Marco Reyes Alvarez had been living in Meriden since 1997 with his family. In 2007 Reyes was apprehended by ICE while vacationing with his family near the Canadian border by accident. Since 2016, he has consistently checked in with ICE and it was just last month when he was suddenly ordered to leave.

Reyes was supposed to leave from John F. Kennedy Airport Tuesday morning, but never arrived.  

His supporters say Marco's brother-in-law was murdered in Ecuador and he fears for his life if he returns.

Senator Blumenthal said that should be enough reason for Marco to stay. 

"I 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," said Senator Blumenthal. 

"We will change policies that are tearing our families, our community, or finances," said Councilman Miguel Castro. 

Marco took the podium and had a translator alongside him. 

"We came to this country with a lot of dreams," said Marco Reyes. 

During his speech, Marco cringed at the thought of leaving his children and wife after spending 20 years in Connecticut. 

Reyes added, "Just the thought of being away from my loved ones but on top of that, exists the chance that I'll never see them again."

Among the crowd was Luis Barrios who was in same shoes as Marco about three months ago.

"I was in the same situation before. I have four children, so I know it's very hard sometimes," said Barrios.

Barrios was also ordered to deport back to Guatemala but in the eleventh hour, he was granted two more years to stay at his current home in Derby.

Barrios had this one advice for Marco.

"Keep together .... pray," added Barrios.

There is no timeline as to how long Marco will stay inside the church, but they may start accepting donations soon to help Marco out.

What is a sanctuary church and is it legal? 

Reyes seeking sanctuary inside a church comes only a few weeks after Nury Chavarria, another illegal immigrant set to be deported, sought asylum inside another church in New Haven. Chavarria was eventually granted stay after six days of living inside the church.

Senator Richard Blumenthal released the following statement regarding Reyes:

Shawn Neudauer, ICE spokesman of New England issued the following statement:

On Aug. 8, Marco Reyes-Alvarez, a citizen of Ecuador illegally present in the United States, was scheduled to meet ICE deportation officers with the agency’s Hartford, Connecticut office, to verify his compliance with a removal order issued by a federal immigration judge in 2009. Reyes failed to appear and has since taken refuge in a church in New Haven, indicating he does not intend to comply with the court’s order. Reyes is now considered an ICE fugitive and will be arrested and detained when encountered. At which time, ICE will remove him from the United States.

In 2010, Reyes previously filed petitions to reopen his case and requested a stay of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both were ultimately denied. He requested another stay of removal from ICE in 2016, which was granted while he pursued additional legal options in his case. After he exhausted those options, ICE notified him that the agency planned to carry out his removal order. Last week, he again petitioned the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his case and requested another stay of removal. The Board of Immigration Appeals denied the stay of removal, allowing ICE to proceed with the case.

On May 5, 2017, ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan notified the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that ICE will no longer automatically grant a stay of removal for an alien based on private immigration bills introduced by Members of Congress — unless the Chair of the full Committee or Subcommittee makes a written request to ICE to stay the alien’s removal.

This policy became effective May 5, 2017. Those aliens for whom an investigative report had been requested prior to May 5, 2017, will be processed under the old policy and granted an automatic stay of removal until March 15, 2019. Formal correspondence documenting this update is forthcoming. ICE is currently working to fulfill all requests for investigative reports received in conjunction with private immigration relief legislation introduced in the 115th Congress. This “grandfathering” of the private immigration bill policy affects 30 aliens whose private bills were processed before May 5.

A federal immigration judge’s orders cannot be ignored. 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.