A week after one undocumented immigrant emerged from a downtown “sanctuary church,” another took his place Thursday.
By moving temporarily into the First & Summerfield Church at Elm and College Streets rather than obey a federal order to leave the country, Nelson Pinos became the third undocumented immigrant to stay in the country by taking shelter in a New Haven church since the Trump administration began targeting law-abiding people— rather than just people with violent criminal records — for arrest and deportation.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered Pinos to leave Connecticut for his native Ecuador Thursday.
Unable to get a stay, the 47-year-old factory worker and father of three, who lives in New Haven’s Annex neighborhood, headed for First & Summerfield.
“I made the hard decision of coming to this church, because I have a family to fight for and to strive for, and I don’t want to abandon them,” Pinos told reporters inside the church. “I believe that God is great, and He’ll give me the strength to keep on fighting for my family and for my freedom, so I can live my life.”
ICE has a policy of not entering houses of worships to arrest immigrants, unless agents receive approval from higher-ups or confront an emergency. That should mean Pinos will remain safe, as long as he stays inside the sanctuary.
Local activists worry authorities won’t stick to their own guidelines. They cited the way immigrants were snatched from a Brooklyn courthouse and a Corpus Christi, Texas, hospital. John Jairo Lugo, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), said his group is prepping a rapid response network that can surround the church in peaceful protest if ICE tries to enter.
In the meantime, one of Pinos’s lawyers, Yazmin Rodriguez, has attempted to reopen a standing deportation order in a Minnesota court, but that motion was rejected. She’s now trying an appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Justice Department’s internal 17-member panel that conducts “paper reviews” of cases.
Just last week, another Ecuadorian immigrant, Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez, left the church after staying there for more than three months, after receiving a surprise Thanksgiving Eve reprieve from a deportation order.
A committee of parishioners, many of them elderly, greeted Pinos and his family around 6 a.m. Thursday. The congregation has been grateful for a chance to live out its faith, said Juhye Hahn, the church’s pastor.
Just this Sunday, Hahn read the Gospel of Matthew from a lectern that Reyes Alvarez built. A king says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in.” The righteous ask, “When?” and he replies, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”
Pinos has lived in America since May 1992 and stayed out of trouble. ICE picked him up in a raid in Minnesota, and he missed a court date on his deportation.
Members of ULA have advocated for Pinos and organized support for him, as the group did along with other immigrant-rights groups for Marco Reyes and with Nury Chavarria, who also avoided deportation and is remaining in the country after a stay in a New Haven church. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal also called for Pinos to be allowed to remain in the country.
“The decision to take sanctuary is not an easy one. Nelson has decided to leave his work and his freedom behind to stay with his family. The New Haven community stands by his decision,” ULA activist Jesus Morales stated in a release issued Thursday morning.
“What good is deporting a father of three? None. This man has lived and worked in the community for decades. This is what Trump’s immigration policy is about: separating families, terrorizing communities, and traumatizing children,” added ULA’s Lugo.
Pinos’s daughters collected 500 postcards from their friends. With ULA, they tried to deliver the letters to Hartford this morning, but security wouldn’t let them.
Kelly, 15, his oldest, also wrote a letter to ICE, in which she asked agents what they would do if their own fathers were taken.
“I’m writing to you because I am really begging you not to deport my dad. He belongs here with us, with his family. I pray every single night that he doesn’t have to leave,” she wrote. “You really won’t understand how it would feel if he got taken away from us, so please I really beg you to let him stay with us. Don’t break us apart. He has a wonderful life here with us. Please don’t do this to us!“