2nd Immigrant Takes Church Sanctuary

Christopher Peak PhotosIn the face of a deportation order, an Ecuadorian immigrant who came to the United States to flee violence has taken sanctuary in a New Haven church — an act of defiance that was welcomed Tuesday evening by the city’s political representatives and immigration advocates.

The federal government ordered the father of three, Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez of Meriden, to fly back to Ecuador Tuesday morning. “Instead of going to the airport, he drove instead to New Haven” and took shelter at the First & Summerfield Church at College and Elm streets, reported immigrant rights organizer John Lugo of Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA), which has worked on Reyes’s case.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters later in the day, Reyes said he’d chosen to seek sanctuary as “his last option.”

“We came to this country with a lot of dreams. It’s very difficult for us to be going through what we’re going through,” Reyes said in Spanish as his son-in-law translated. “Yet here I am, here is my family, here is my community, and here are all of us, people who believe in a better world.”

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. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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. Now, as the Trump administration has cracked down on those lacking authorization to stay in the country.

At a 5 p.m. press conference in front of the church, a crowd spilled out into Elm and College Streets to wave signs, chant and show support. (Several alders were in attendance, as the church shares offices with the UNITE HERE unions.) Mayor Toni Harp said Reyes can count on the Elm City to protect him from immigration authorities.

“Just to be clear, New Haven will remain a sanctuary city,” Harp said to loud cheers. “New Haven will be a welcoming city no matter where you used to live.”

Reyes follows a path forged by another employed, longtime resident and undocumented immigrant, Nury Chavarria. She took sanctuary last month 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.

Reyes’s lawyer, Erin O’Neil-Baker, said she is hoping for the same outcome as she pursues two separate administrative appeals and a court case.

“Really Hard Decision”

The dizzying turn of events, from planning to drop Reyes at a New York City airport at 7:45 a.m. to leaving him sequestered inside a church for the foreseeable future, has taken a visible toll on his family members, who cried and clutched each other’s hands at the church Tuesday.

“Nobody is expecting that [after] living in freedom and having a regular life in this country, one day [authorities are] asking their father to leave this country,” Lugo observed. “I think it’s pretty difficult for the family.”

Around 1 p.m. Tuesday, Reyes’s children spoke to the media in the Methodist church’s sanctuary. Evelyn Reyes said her father had made a “really hard decision” in choosing to move into the building. “It’s hard for him, it’s hard for all of us,” she said. “We’re hanging in there.” The 23-year-old daughter said her father had been inspired by Nury Chavarria,. Eveleyn called Nury “a very strong woman.”

A group of elderly churchgoers is handling the logistics of Reyes’s stay. They mobilized into action after Adeline Tucker, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement who’s leading the church’s committee, received a phone call from Paul Fleck, the pastor of Hamden Plains United Methodist Church, at 2:30 a.m. Tucker and others greeted Reyes at the church at 6 a.m.

The committee set up a bed for Reyes and cleared out a Sunday school classroom in the basement where he can meet with visitors. Tucker said the congregation plans to install a portable shower system in a room that has a drain, and parishioners will buy a week’s worth of food at a time.

Throughout the day, Reyes waited in a maroon-carpeted office on the first floor of the offices behind the church. He was joined by his wife, Fanny; his son, Anthony, 21; his daughter, Adriana, 12; several in-laws, nieces, nephews and other family and friends.

Out in the hallway, organizers from ULA and the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) managed a deluge of phone calls from reporters, tried to line up politicians for an evening press conference and compiled a list of essentials that Reyes will need during his indeterminate stay. A pastor for Elm City Vineyard Church hauled out unneeded items to open up more space for Reyes to get comfortable.

At the 5 p.m. press conference, advocates spoke of the need to protect one’s neighbors, even if their paperwork isn’t in order. Seemingly emboldened by Chavarria’s success, they argued that concerned citizens must do more for the other families who don’t have a church to flee to or even those who might have a criminal record.

A 10-Year Battle

Reyes’ case dates back to 2007. While vacationing with his family, Reyes got lost and inadvertently crossed over the Canadian border. On his way back, immigration authorities stopped him. Two years later, during Obama’s first year in office, a court issued a deportation order.

In 2010, Reyes tried to reopen his case, requesting a stay from both the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Justice Department’s 17-member panel that conducts “paper reviews” of cases, and a federal judge on Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Both were ultimately denied, according to ICE New England spokesperson Shawn Neudauer.

Reyes tried again in 2016, and a stay of removal was granted while he attempted to pursue further legal recourse. (ICE says it treats stays as a temporary privilege, giving an undocumented immigrant time to plan their departure, fight their case in court, or otherwise get their affairs in order.) Reyes filed another petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals, asking it to reopen his case and grant another stay. His petition was denied.

Reyes reported to a check-in with the agency in Hartford on July 11. With legal options exhausted, agents told him to be out of the country by Aug. 8.

Last week he again petitioned the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his case and requested another stay of removal. Supporters gathered over 1,000 signatures over the weekend calling for him to be allowed to stay in the country. But his last appeal for a stay was denied on Monday. That allowed ICE to proceed with the case, Neudauer said.

“A federal immigration judge’s orders cannot be ignored,” Neudauer said. “He has since exhausted his legal options and has been instructed to depart the United States in compliance with the court’s order.”

O’Neil-Baker, who’s been representing Reyes for a week, is attempting to introduce new information that she believes could tip the scales in her client’s favor. Back in Ecuador, Reyes’s brother-in-law was murdered, and the killer, who was released from prison in late 2015, has been making death threats against the family, she said. Fearing for her life, Reyes’s niece fled to America last March and filed her own asylum claims.

Those new claims hasn’t been heard by government administrators or federal judges, O’Neil-Baker said. She has filed an appeal with the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals asking it to reopen the case. And she has requested that the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services conduct a “credible fear interview.” Either could result in Reyes being granted asylum.

But first O’Neil-Baker needs to buy time. In the coming days, she plans to file a motion in the coming days requesting an emergency stay from a federal appellate court.

“It’s a forward-looking stay: ‘Do not remove this individual. He might have a claim’” with some merit, she explained. “And if there is [an adverse] decision that needs to be reviewed by the Court of Appeals, the individual is still in the country.”

O’Neil-Baker counseled Reyes against seeking sanctuary, because she doesn’t condone disobeying an ICE directive, she said.

Reyes said he made the decision to skirt ICE’s removal order because he feared for his safety and couldn’t bear to leave his children behind.

“I had the difficult decision to seek help to stay here in this holy place. The decision was not a proud one; it was for security — a problem affecting my family in Ecuador, which was presented to the immigration service and wasn’t taken into account,” he said. “On top of that exists the chance that I might never see [my loved ones] again. That’s a very heavy burden for them and, of course, for me.”

In response, ICE declared Reyes a “fugitive.” Neudauer said, “He will be arrested and detained when encountered. At which time, ICE will remove him from the United States.”

For now, Reyes appears to be safe from deportation: ICE has had a policy directing agents not to enter church grounds to make arrests except under special orders from a supervisor or in life-threatening situations.

Reyes’ “tough decision to defy his removal order is a bitter reminder of the reality that immigrants experience every day, as well as a reminder of how urgent it is to continue fighting back as this situation won’t get better if we don’t stand together and organize our communities,” CIRA organizer Jesus Morales Sanchez stated in a release.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal issued a statement that he’s “outraged and heartbroken by the arbitrary and callous decision to deport Marco Reyes.” He added, “Marco is a hardworking father and husband who has called Connecticut home for two decades without any criminal wrongdoing.”

After the presser, he told the Independent that the case highlighted the importance of working on comprehensive immigration reform in Washington. “Bottom line,” the senator said, standing next to the church’s columns, “it’s inhumane, arbitrary and cruel.”

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posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 8, 2017  10:04am

The Democrats need to start calling, loudly, for comprehensive Immigration Reform.

This man is outside of the law, but deporting him now is stupid, not justice.

Personally I think having a large sub-class of undocumented workers floating around this country is both unnecessary and obscene. (Bring everyone into the system , change the Social Security card into a real federal working/voting ID, require E-Verify, and go after employers cheating by using off-the-books labor.) 

It’s time for our politicians work together to craft a sensible solution. This issue affects millions of families, and a few seemingly random deportations is not the answer.

posted by: cantsufferfools on August 8, 2017  11:21am

I guess nobody saw this coming did they? It just makes me ill that there seems to be hard working, family heads that are being deported.. does that not leave whole families here in need of assistance which will more than likely be in the form of some kind of welfare benefits? Yet some complain about too much welfare assistance being supplied.

posted by: wendy1 on August 8, 2017  12:00pm

I am glad to live in a SANCTUARY city.  Someday all of us will need sanctuary.
I believe in open borders and automatic citizenship if you stay more than 2 years—-no test and full voting rights.  Of course our sick govt. and evil foreign policy makes this impossible.
I am an immigrant.

posted by: RobertBaratheon on August 8, 2017  12:03pm

We need serious immigration reform in this country. Why aren’t we making an easier path to citizenship for honest hardworking immigrants like this man and Nury. Yet our government wants to hire more ICE agents for the sole purpose of deporting people.

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

posted by: Acer on August 8, 2017  4:18pm

As if paying taxes, being a good parent and having no criminal record was the proper documentation needed to become a citizen or a legal resident of the United States. Either there is a rule of law or there isn’t, either we admit “illegal immigration” defeat or we act decisively with lawful determination. Those immigration laws that have been on the books for years need to be enforced. Granted, our immigration laws do need to be fixed, but not enforcing the present laws only presents a neon sign to any and all persons that if they can get here, put down roots for a long enough time - you get to stay.  Ecuador certainly has its share of crime and violence, but it does not rise to the level of those countries that are rife with civil war or gang-related violence. (Check any fact based source you want.) Commendable, laudatory and kudos, kudos, kudos to Mr. Alvarez, but he is an illegal immigrant and he was directed to leave the country.

Like Trump and his heated rhetoric, Blumenthal bloviates to his voter base and makes about as much sense.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 8, 2017  6:04pm

@Acer—yes, but…

This isn’t full-scale enforcement of our immigration laws. It’s selective and arbitrary enforcement, with out-sized consequences for the handful of people caught up in the small net of current enforcement.

Plus your stance fails to take into account any sense of cost vs. benefit, and it doesn’t acknowledge the very grievous family situations that arise when you toss out the bread-winner.

America needs to be moving to a system where workers can’t get work without legitimate federal papers, and where employers can’t play dumb, look-the-other-way, cheat, and abuse a system that currently requires just a paper Social Security card.

The country has the means to solve this problem. But the political compromise will require treating the people already here, and their kids, as human beings.  Whether or not a path to citizenship is included is the real question. (Not deporting 12 Million workers.)

Finally, fwiw an overwhelming majority of Americans are against mass deportations.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 8, 2017  7:39pm

posted by: Acer on August 8, 2017 5:18pm

Ecuador certainly has its share of crime and violence, but it does not rise to the level of those countries that are rife with civil war or gang-related violence. (Check any fact based source you want.) Commendable, laudatory and kudos, kudos, kudos to Mr. Alvarez, but he is an illegal immigrant and he was directed to leave the country.

How about the U.S.-led destabilization of Central America which also made immigrants flee to this country.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 8, 2017  8:03pm

The decision to remove Reyes is neither callous or arbitrary. He has had a standing deportation order since 2009. Sen. Blumenthal twists his facts just like he twists his Vietnam record. As ICE correctly noted, Reyes was allowed to stay while he exhausted his review process. That process is now over.

It is highly offensive for politcal posers to pretend this has been done outside the law or with a callous disregard for his plight. Clearly, his story was not believable or didn’t rise to the level where it warranted jumping ahead of others in line.

By the way, this was an easy decision, not a hard one. The hard one would be to comply, apply and wait your turn at reentry. It’s easy to break the law, run your appeals, then create a media spectacle to try and bully your way ahead of others who have waited years in line to come here lawfully.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 8, 2017  8:04pm

If enforcing immigration laws means doing it with an undeveloped sense of justice that results in people who have lived here for years and have raised their kids here get deported, then screw it, don’t enforce them. Open the floodgates.

posted by: BevHills730 on August 8, 2017  8:38pm

Noteworthy defends an alleged pedophile going so far as to suggest that there is nothing criminal about an older man sexually assualting a 14 year old. Yet noteworthy gleefully advocates for tearing fathers from their families. This is a great example of the warped right’s vision of the “rule of law.”

posted by: JCFremont on August 8, 2017  10:13pm

@AverageTaxpayer, Politicians of both parties use the word comprehensive to sound “intelligent” but really it’s merely a stall to do nothing and avoid making hard decisions. At this point there is no reason why passport and visa documents are not electronic except that Washington DC likes the current chaotic system so they continually put hands on head a sigh “something must be done.” Here’s a twist I think it is unfair for the United States to continually drain the best and brightest from these poor dysfunctional countries we must send them back too show there less talented citizens. [Sarcasm]

posted by: Acer on August 9, 2017  8:48am

To TheMadcap - open the floodgates, really? That is more than Madcap, that is insane. My understanding is, is that Mr. Alvarez was given several chances and ample opportunity to state his case to stay in the U.S.This was spread out over several years. Each time Mr. Alvarez ‘s petitions were denied and he was directed to leave the U.S. He refused, now adding the additional weight of becoming a fugitive. It seems to me that the advice given to Mr. Alvarez from those who know how to game the system was to, “dig your roots as deep as you can while you await your petitions, because then even if your appeals fail, many will rationalize that you won’t be deported and they won’t break up families”. Can the laws continue to be flaunted, even in the face of appeals denied? Isn’t it the height of cynicism, to have those on the left who believe that immigrants are the same as illegal immigrants, game the system by crying, “Can’t break up families”?

posted by: JCFremont on August 9, 2017  9:35am

I have a question. On Tuesday he was ordered to fly to Ecuador. OK where there any State Department, ICE or any other immigration department officials escorting him? Was anyone monitoring him? Seeing if he actually brought a ticket? Where they following him when he suddenly veered on to the Trumbull Street exit in New Haven? Didn’t think so, basically the career bureaucrats like many of our elected legislatures, they make a lot of noise with no actions to back it up.

[Chris: ICE said that it used its discretion to not arrest Reyes in July at the time it ordered him to leave the country. According to its spokesman, “On Aug. 8, Marco Reyes-Alvarez ... was scheduled to meet ICE deportation officers with the agency’s Hartford, Connecticut office, to verify his compliance with a removal order…. Reyes failed to appear.”]

posted by: Noteworthy on August 9, 2017  9:55am

BevHills -

Ever hear of due process? It’s an important legal protection that guarantees your right to a confront your accuser in a court of law and to defend yourself in front of a jury of your peers. There are all kinds of rules on attorney conduct, disclosure and process. At the end of this process - with a jury verdict in hand is when judgment should be rendered and frankly, not one minute prior. Being accused is not the same as convicted.

I don’t defend a pedophile - until he is convicted, there are only allegations. Your illegal immigrant on the other hand, has had years of appeals and stays - and had all his protestations rejected by a judge and court. Reyes has had due process. Now, he’s thumbing his nose at the verdict. America has been a good host and provided for him and his family - extended every legal protection and avenue available. On advice of his friends, the lawbreaker host and his attorney - despite his representations otherwise, is to try a Hail Mary as he flips the bird at the immigration system. 

By the way, if you don’t like the current system - then tell your congressional representatives - including Rep. Rosa DeLauro who apparently doesn’t understand what “playing by the rules” actually means and the every blowhard Sen. Blumenthal - to get off their asses and get something done. This issue has been around for decades. Yet they pose, preen and issue statements without ever proposing or leading discussions on a long term solution. They must think their job is to hold pressers, pose for pics, snort and make noises about POTUS, the GOP and their endless concerns while accomplishing nearly nothing.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 9, 2017  10:35am

“Each time Mr. Alvarez ‘s petitions were denied and he was directed to leave the U.S.”

He actually won a stay as recentlynas 2016 before Cheeto face took over and directed ICE to deport everything and anything.

“dig your roots as deep as you can while you await your petitions, because then even if your appeals fail, many will rationalize that you won’t be deported and they won’t break up families”

Yes, because this is how both empathy and applying the law with discretion works. You should try out both

posted by: Bohica on August 9, 2017  11:55am

I don’t think we should be wasting time and money deporting him or other people in similar situations.  However, I’m not about to make him a saint either.  He’s been beating the system successfully for years.  He arrived here in 1997 and still can’t speak English?  He speaks about being part of a community, what community is that where he can’t communicate with them?  He’s a poster boy for the left in New Haven, he uses them for his own selfish reasons and they do the same.

posted by: Acer on August 9, 2017  12:05pm

Ahhh, TheMadcap, I was wondering when you would get around to name-calling?

posted by: wendy1 on August 9, 2017  12:13pm

Thank you Noteworthy and you are.
DeLauro is worth 24 million and Blumenthal is worth 86 million according to the NYTIMES (last year)
and they’re not spending it on you.  DeLauro is allowing a local 10 family women’s shelter to die and is not signing on to single payer universal healthcare either.

You can meet me every sunny AM at 59 Elm ST equipped with small bullhorn and large sign.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 9, 2017  2:34pm

Dude, if you don’t want to be cited for lack of empathy in your thinking maybe you should, idk, have some empaty and use discretion?

posted by: BevHills730 on August 9, 2017  7:36pm

Noteworthy you suggested that you’re ok with criminal activities like old men sexually assaulting 14 year olds. This is an actual and disgusting crime.

Yet you cheer to subject a man to violence and tear him from his family.

posted by: LivingInNewHaven on August 10, 2017  1:41am

Really a sad situation. Would have been nice for ICE to have been educating him on how to get his citizenship instead of enabling him. Are there any other sanctuary cities in CT?  What is this teaching the masses? I’m not against this guy or anyone else taking refuge in the churches, but not for nothing,  when folks who aren’t Hispanic start trying to hide out in the churches, i.e. Black immigrants, they better get the same treatment. Hispanics aren’t the only folks being deported.

posted by: JCFremont on August 10, 2017  10:28am

@Chris P. Thank you for the information. This of course seems to be the pattern for the current immigration system. People are issued visa’s, temporary work permits or just plane old summons to appear and low a behold many ignore the rules (laws). “Failed to Appear” should be the INS slogan.