The Rev. William Barber II and other state and local faith leaders gathered around a man facing deportation Wednesday morning to support his taking sanctuary at a school.
José Chicas, 52, has been living at the School for Conversion in Durham since June 27 to avoid deportation and remain close to his family in Raleigh. Chicas, from El Salvador, has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years.
“Because of bad legal advice, I find myself in the situation I am in today,” he said.
Chicas left El Salvador in the 1980s to escape the country’s civil war. In the ’90s, he said, he was charged and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and domestic violence. He later underwent a spiritual conversion and reconciled with his wife. He is the pastor of Iglesia Evangelica in Raleigh and was a maintenance worker for a Catholic school in Cary before taking sanctuary.
This is the third public sanctuary case in North Carolina.
The first two people to take sanctuary in North Carolina are staying in Greensboro churches. On May 31, Juana Ortega moved in to St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. Last week Minerva Garcia and her two youngest sons moved into Congregational United Church of Christ.
Both women are hoping for a delay in deportation from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Those facing deportation seek sanctuary as a last resort, advocates say. These places provide a space to eat, sleep and wash. There have been more than 20 sanctuary cases, mostly involving churches, nationwide in the last three years.
ICE has a policy of refraining from entering sensitive locations such as churches, hospitals and schools to arrest, interview, search or carry out surveillance.
“A final order of removal issued by a federal judge does not expire,” ICE spokesman Bryan CoxCox said. “That judicial order will remain in effect no matter how long in the future a person may exit a sensitive location.”
Chicas did not say what brought him to immigration officials’ attention.
Cox could not discuss specific cases but said, in general “those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, or who have violated the terms of their visas, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, have no pending appeal, and do not qualify for relief must be removed.”
Chicas is married and has four children, three of them U.S. citizens. His youngest son, 11, is staying with him since he moved into the school.
“He tells me every day, ‘Let’s go home. I’m tired of being here,’” Chicas said. “I tell him he needs to go home with his mom, but he tells me he needs to be with me.”
ICE arrests jumped 40 percent during the first three months of President Donald Trump’s administration compared to the same period the year before.
Trump has made it a priority to deport all who have entered the country illegally. Under the Obama Administration, people with criminal convictions were prioritized.
U.S. Rep. David Price has agreed to meet with Chicas, said Ana Ilaraza-Blackburn, NAACP state Latino liaison.
Chicas and his supporters asked others to sign his petition to rescind his deportation order.
“I am not a delinquent,” Chicas said. “I have been with my wife 25 years. I did my time.”
Barber, president of the NAACP, said his church in Goldsboro, Greenleaf Christian Church, would welcome Chicas’ family and congregation.
He also called on people of all faiths to “stand up” for immigrants.
“We in America should not be building walls on our southern border ... nor should we be using ICE to break up families,” Barber said.
He disputed the notion that immigrants commit crime and take resources from government services and said immigrants pay taxes, have spending power and “end up paying into a system they cannot benefit from.” Only people with Social Security numbers can claim benefits.
Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744
Camila Molina: 919-829-4638