Last week a fourth undocumented immigrant facing deportation sought sanctuary at a New Haven church. Monday she regained her freedom.
After only six days at the church, Nelly Cumbicos is now back with her family in Meriden, after federal immigration officials promised not to seek her deportation while a decision on her U.S. citizenship is still pending at the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Local immigrant rights activist Kica Matos called an impromptu press conference Monday evening at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on Elm Street to announce that Cumbicos, a 41-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who first came to the United States in 2000, would be leaving sanctuary at the church to rejoin her husband and 16-year-old son, both of whom are U.S. citizens, in Meriden.
In July 2017, Nury Chavarria, a Guatemalan immigrant from Norwalk, received a similar reprieve after spending a few days in the sanctuary congregation at Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal in Fair Haven.
Unlike Marco Antonio Reyes Alvarez, who stayed at the church for more than three months before securing a Thanksgiving Eve reprieve from his deportation order, and Nelson Pinos, who has been living at the church since Dec. 1, 2017 in opposition to his deportation order, Cumbicos spent less than a week in hideout at the Downtown sanctuary. She moved in on Wednesday, Feb. 28, then returned home to Meriden Monday afternoon.
Cumbicos fled death threats in Ecuador in 2000, arriving in Connecticut later that year. She has spent the last 18 years in Meriden with her husband Ramon and her 16-year-old son Jim, both of whom are U.S. citizens. According to Matos, Cumbicos has never been arrested and has no criminal history independent of her immigration status.
In 2015, her husband filed an immigration marriage petition to secure Cumbicos a green card. The petition was successful. But, according to Matos and Cumbicos’s lawyer Erin O’Neil-Baker, the mere engagement of that petition process alerted immigration officials in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to an outstanding order of removal dating back to 2002. That old order has prevented Cumbicos from securing a legal permanent residency through the marriage petition process.
Earlier in 2018, Cumbicos received an order of deportation. On Feb. 5, she received a stay of deportation, which was promptly reversed on Feb. 9. Her deportation date was set as Feb. 28.
Matos said that she first met Cumbicos on Feb. 22, after several supporters reached out to her for help in the days after the reversal of her initial stay.
Matos said that she told Cumbicos that, if she did not receive a legal stay by her deportation date of Feb. 28, and if she was in need of sanctuary, Matos would be able to arrange that for her.
Several days later, Cumbicos let Matos know that she would be interested in finding a sanctuary in New Haven. Matos met with local sanctuary congregation leaders to find her a place to live, and helped move her into First and Summerfield on her scheduled deportation date, Wednesday, Feb. 28.
After a week of appeals from Matos and other supporters of Cumbicos, DHS announced on Monday that it will not enforce her deportation while Cumbicos’s motion to reopen her permanent residency application is still pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals.
“If Nelly had gotten on that plane last Wednesday,” Matos said on Monday night, “she would have left the country that she has called home for the last 18 years.”
She celebrated Cumbicos’s temporary reprieve, but emphasized that her case is far from over.
“In this instance,” she said, “let me say that ICE did the right thing. They exercised their discretion in a way that will give Nelly the opportunity to be heard in court.”
Rev. Paul Fleck of the Hamden Plains United Methodist Church and Pastor Juhye Hahn of First and Summerfield followed Matos with words of celebration for Cumbicos, and words of commitment to the sanctuary congregation cause.
“As the prophets of old said,” Fleck said, “the hearts of stone have been replaced with hearts of flesh, at least in this particular case.”
“This is the place where everyone is welcome,” Hahn followed. “God never asks our status. God doesn’t ask our nationality or where we came from and God doesn’t ask our age and our sexual orientation at all. This place is a welcome place. That’s why we call it a sanctuary.”
Meriden Councilman Miguel Castro followed the faith leaders with a political appeal to immigrant rights activists to continue to put pressure on local politicians to engage in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
“This is a war against those that continue to promote segregation and criminal deportations against our people and members of our community,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen.”
Cumbicos, standing alongside her sister, Elizabeth, and her son and husband, told the group before her how blessed she felt, and how happy she was to have been able to stay at the church in her time of need.
“I just want to thank you so much for coming here,” she said. “Right now, I’m so happy.”