New Haven Man Takes Sanctuary In City Church To Avoid Deportation

Ordered to leave the country by 2:20 p.m. Thursday, a New Haven man instead took sanctuary in a city church, where he is shielded from immigration agents as long as he remains within its walls.

Nelson Pinos, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian national who came to the country illegally in 1992, entered First and Summerfield United Methodist Church at daybreak Thursday and defied an order to board a one-way afternoon flight out of Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

“I made the hard decision to come to this church because I have a family, a family to fight for and a family to strive for, and I don’t want to abandon them,” Pinos said through an interpreter Thursday afternoon, speaking in the church that is now his indefinite home.

“Just watching him pack up his stuff last night was really hard,” said Pinos’ 15-year-old daughter Kelly. “We’re very sad and anxious. I just hope [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] understands that my dad needs to be with his family.”

The decision to take sanctuary was not an easy one for her father or the family, she said, but “If he’s still here, we can still fight for him and be with him in person.”

Pinos has two other children — daughter Arlly, 12, and son Brandon, 5.

Pinos’ decision to take sanctuary comes just a week after Marco Reyes Alvarez, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, was granted a temporary stay after spending 105 days in the same church. Pinos has moved into the room Alvarez vacated last week, said Jesus Morales Sanchez, an activist with the New Haven group that arranged sanctuary for both men.

“It’s heartbreaking to see another family going through this,” said Fanny Reyes, Alvarez’s wife, who stood in support of Pinos at a rally Thursday morning in Hartford. “I will tell them to be strong and hold onto each other tightly. That is the only thing they have left.”

Pinos’ attorney, Yazmin Rodriguez, said her client’s motion to reopen his case is pending with an immigration court in Minnesota. Rodriguez has requested a temporary stay so the court has time to review Pinos’ case while he is still in the country.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has advocated for other Connecticut immigrants defying removal orders, wrote a letter to ICE Wednesday asking that the agency stay Pinos’ deportation until the immigration court has reviewed his case.

“ICE has confirmed to me Mr. Pinos does not have a criminal history,” Blumenthal wrote, “and therefore, while I understand and respect the difficult task ICE faces, I cannot understand how deporting Mr. Pinos is the best use of ICE resources.

ICE said Thursday that Pinos’ request for an emergency stay had been denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals Wednesday night.

Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman, previously said Pinos had been cooperating with immigration officials and had signaled he was planning to comply with his deportation.

But “should he fail to depart as scheduled,” Neudauer warned, “he will be listed as an immigration fugitive and arrested when encountered, at which time ICE will carry out his removal.”

Pinos is the fourth Connecticut resident this year to take sanctuary, a maneuver that makes use of an ICE policy that discourages agents from entering schools, hospitals and houses of worship.

Juyhe Hahn, the pastor at First and Summerfield, said offering Pinos sanctuary was in keeping with the church’s biblical role as a place of safe haven.

“When Mr. Nelson Pinos knocked on our door asking for sanctuary, we knew — instantly, we knew — that that was also the voice of God,” Hahn said. “This is how we show our Christian love. This is how we practice the way of Jesus.”

It remains unclear how long Pinos will stay in First and Summerfield church. He could be there no more than a few days, like Nury Chavarria, the Norwalk mother who was granted an emergency stay five days after entering a New Haven church, or for much longer. Alvarez did not set foot outside First and Summerfield for 105 days until ICE promised, in an agreement with the Immigration Board of Appeals, not to arrest him until the board had reviewed his case.

During his 100-day stay, Alvarez built a lectern for the congregation that Hahn says she preaches from every Sunday.

Sanchez said Pinos “is going to remain in the church as long as it takes for ICE to grant him a stay.”

“I think if anything, the fact Marco was able to leave the church gives us hope,” Sanchez said. “It gives us hope that if we keep fighting, we’ll keep our community safe and families together.”

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