One hundred and five days after he defied a deportation order and took sanctuary in a New Haven church, Marco Reyes Alvarez, an Ecuadorian national who entered the country illegally in 1997, was granted a temporary reprieve that allowed the Meriden father to leave First and Summerfield Church without fear of arrest.
The Department of Homeland Security agreed not to detain Reyes Alvarez, 45, while his petition with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is pending, said his attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker.
“It means he can go home with his family,” she said. “We know that at any point the 2nd Circuit could make a decision on his case, but while those are pending the Department of Homeland Security … won’t deport him.”
O’Neil-Baker had previously filed a motion to reopen Reyes Alvarez’s case with the Board of Immigration Appeals, along with the petition for an emergency stay of removal with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Reyes Alvarez appeared outside the Federal Building in Hartford Wednesday afternoon with his family, O’Neil-Baker and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has advocated for Reyes Alvarez over the past three months.
“I’m pleased and proud to be here with this wonderful family, and that is what is so American about Thanksgiving,” he said. “It celebrates family and fairness and faith, and nothing could epitomize it more than this picture.”
The senator said he’s “very confident ICE and the Department of Homeland Security will abide by their commitment not to arrest Marco,” using the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE will continue to monitor Reyes Alvarez with a GPS tracking device, O’Neil-Baker said.
An ICE spokesman said the agency was deferring to the appellate court as it reviewed Reyes Alvarez’s case, and had temporarily stayed his removal. O’Neil-Baker said there “is no timeline at all” while the motion to reopen and petition for an emergency stay are pending.
Reyes Alvarez spoke briefly Wednesday. He shivered in the wind; his first day outside the church was sunless and rainy.
“My name is Marco and I’ve been staying in the church for four months,” Reyes Alvarez told reporters. “First I want to say thank you. … Thank you everyone for this moment. I don’t have many words. I just want to go home with my family.”
An immigration judge ordered Reyes Alvarez’s removal in 2009, a decision he appealed unsuccessfully the following year. In July of this year, Reyes Alvarez was told he had until Aug. 9 to return to Ecuador. In the days leading up to the deadline, Reyes Alvarez said family members in Ecuador were being menaced by a convicted murderer who had since been released from prison. Rather than return to a country where he said his family would be in danger, Reyes Alvarez took sanctuary in New Haven’s First and Summerfield Church, where he remained for the past 105 days.
It is ICE’s policy not to arrest immigration fugitives in houses of worship, hospitals and schools, but an ICE spokesman warned that Reyes Alvarez would be arrested if he stepped off church property.
Reyes Alvarez, who once worked as a carpenter, spent his days fixing the First and Summerfield’s furniture. He built the congregation a lectern, which the pastor, Juhye Hahn, said she will preach from as a memento of their long-term guest.
“I’m so happy for him,” Hahn said, “but I’m a little sad too. I will be missing him and his family.”
“There’s been times in the last 100 days when I asked if this was right,” said Morales Sanchez, part of activism group Unidad Latina en Accion that orchestrated Reyes Alvarez’s sanctuary. “I wondered if we should be doing this. And this is the day all those questions were answered.”
Another Connecticut man, Sujitno Sajuti, remains in sanctuary at Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden, where he took refuge Oct. 10 to avoid being deported to his native Indonesia.