Thanks to a surprise Thanksgiving Eve reprieve, Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez emerged Wednesday evening from the downtown church that has been his sanctuary with a message of hope for other immigrants battling deportation: “Don’t give up. Because if I can do it, everyone can.”
Reyes (second from right in the above photo) delivered that message at a part-victory, part-keep-fighting rally on the front steps of First & Summerfield Church across from the Green at College and Elm streets.
Reyes, a 45-year-old father of three who came to the United States to flee violence in his native Ecuador, took sanctuary in the church on Aug. 8, the day he was ordered to leave the country as part of the Trump adminsitration’s immigration crackdown. (Click here to read more about that.) He has been holed up there ever since to avoid arrest and deportation, supported by a network of immigration reformers allied with the sanctuary movement.
On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was visiting Reyes and his wife Fanny at the church when they got a phone call with unexpected news: Reyes had won a reprieve from his deportation order. He can return home with his family to Meriden while his attorney seeks a review of his deportation order by the federal appeals court and the Board of Immigration Appeals.
It was one of two local reprieves announced Wednesday. Miriam Martinez-Lemus, who is caring for an ill 12-year-old daughter, also won a temporary stay. (Click here to read about her case.)
Before returning home Wednesday evening, Reyes, Fanny and their daughter Adriana joined dozens of supporters for the twilight rally outside the church.
In the spirit of the holiday, Reyes spent much of his speaking time offering thanks: to his family; to local immigrant-rights organizers John Lugo and Jesus Morales Sanchez; to the First & Summerfield community that embraced him.
Then he addressed other immigrants battling to stay in this country with their families.
“I just want to give a message to everyone that is going through a similar or worse situation than mine: It can be done,” Reyes said in Spanish, with Morales translating into English.
“I also want to give a message to every immigrant out there in the country: Don’t give up Because if I can do it, everyone can.”
Morales (pictured) made his own remarks to the crowd, recalling how he shed tears when he wrote a press release about Reyes having to leave the country in August — then rewrote the release to announce that Reyes had found sanctuary at First & Summerfield. Federal Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have a policy of not entering houses of worships to detain immigrants.
“We’re on the steps [outside the church], and we’re not worried ICE is going to scoop you up,” Morales noted.
“Tonight Marcos is going home. It warms my heart. But the fight is far from over. Tomorrow we’re going to keep fighting. … When we fight, we win. And boy have we won today!”
Lugo noted that the movement has also been working to help Nelson Pinos (pictured) of New Haven’s Annex neighborhood remain in the country. ICE has ordered him to leave next Thursday to return to Ecuador. (Read a story about his case here.)
“Keep Nelson home!” Lugo (pictured) led the crowd in chanting.
Reyes came to the U.S. in 1997 with his wife and two children and has worked in construction installing drywall. He has paid taxes since 2002, according to advocates. ICE arrested him in 2007 for being here without permission. The government issued a deportation order in 2009, but he won a stay of deportation as Barack Obama left office. But ICE in August decided that he now had to leave.
He is the second immigrant to have won the right to remain in the country, at least for now, after taking shelter in a New Haven church.
Reyes followed a path forged by another employed, longtime resident and undocumented immigrant, Nury Chavarria. She took sanctuary in July in a Fair Haven church, Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal, on the day she had been ordered to leave the country. The community and statewide elected officials rallied around her. On July 26, a judge granted her permission to stay in the country as her case is reopened.
In an interview before Wednesday evening’s rally, Marco Reyes said he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed tonight and staying with his family at their Meriden home for the first time in more than three months.
But Thursday they plan to return to First & Summerfield, for Thanksgiving dinner with the community that has nurtured them, Reyes said. “I have to say thank you.”