Durham County

Mexican man with sick wife becomes 2nd immigrant in sanctuary in Durham

Samuel Oliver-Bruno has been staying at Durham’s CityWell United Methodist Church.
Samuel Oliver-Bruno has been staying at Durham’s CityWell United Methodist Church. cwarrenhicks@heraldsun.com

A Mexican man who entered the U.S. illegally to be with his sick wife has become the second immigrant to take sanctuary in Durham and the fifth in in North Carolina.

Samuel Oliver-Bruno moved into Durham’s CityWell United Methodist Church on Sunday.

“Receiving Samuel into sanctuary at CityWell has everything to do with our wanting to receive the ways of Jesus as our way of life,” said pastor Cleve May. “This is a way that we can stand up to prevent the destruction of an innocent family and call on our country to create just immigration laws.”

May said Oliver-Bruno was detained by Border Patrol agents during his attempted 2014 crossing of the Mexico-U.S. border while trying to reunite with his sick wife, who was already living stateside.

The family reached out to the activist organization Alerta Migratoria NC, which arranged the initial talks between Oliver-Bruno and CityWell, spokeswoman Viridiana Martinez said.

Alerta Migratoria is in touch with a loose network of churches across the state whose leaders are “stepping up” to support immigrants facing deportations, she said.

“It’s a movement that’s building out of need,” Martinez said. “It’s not the cool thing to do. It’s not the hip thing to do. It’s the thing to do, because it is what is needed.”

May said Oliver-Bruno was released from custody on a stay of removal after presenting his wife’s medical records during court proceedings.

The executive director of Durham Congregations in Action, Spencer Bradford, said his organization is not directly involved with Oliver-Bruno’s case but wholeheartedly support immigrants taking sanctuary in houses of worship.

“A call to provide hospitality and protection to those in need has deep roots in not only Christianity but Judaism and other religions,” Bradford said, “and it is profoundly connected to American tradition from the Underground Railroad in the 19th Century to the churches that provided protection to Central American refugees in the 1980s.”

Juana Ortega was the first person to receive sanctuary within a North Carolina church on May 28 when she entered into the protection of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro.

In June, Minerva Garcia moved into the Congregational United Church of Christ, also in Greensboro, and José Chicas took refuge from deportation proceedings in the School for Conversion in Durham.

At the time of Oliver-Bruno’s detainment, his wife was undergoing open-heart surgery, May said, and the medical records which Oliver-Bruno presented to prosecutors proved the severity of her condition.

Oliver-Bruno’s wife had chronic illnesses including Lupus and her needed treatments were mishandled by Mexican physicians, May said, but, her life was saved by American doctors.

May wrote in an email, “If Samuel is deported and cannot financially sustain these treatments for his wife, medical providers maintain his wife will die.”

The couple’s son is a senior student at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, NC, May said.

“This is a basic moral issue, and a central issue in our faith,” May said. Samuel is a good man, a faithful husband, a loving father, a hard worker, and a contributor to his community and our society.

“His family needs him here, and I believe we all do as well,” he added.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks