Amherst church to provide sanctuary for Guatemalan facing deportation

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    Lucio Perez, second from left, and his son Tony, of Springfield are joined by UCC Minister Margaret Sawyer and Hampshire College Director of Spiritual Life Liza Neal, right, in leading about 140 supporters in a "Jericho Walk" encircling the Federal Building on Main Street in Springfield which houses the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday, October 16, 2017. Lucio Perez is facing deportation to Guatemala and supporters gathered Monday to call upon ICE to stay the deportation and to request that his case be reopened.

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    Ruthy Woodring of Northampton, in custody of Springfield police, is lead away from the Federal Building on Main Street in Springfield after being arrested with 17 others who took part in a non-violent action calling upon Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to grant Lucio Perez of Springfield a stay of deportation and request that his case be reopened. About 140 people, including local religious leaders, community members and activists from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and Mass Jobs with Justice, earlier took part in a "Jericho Walk" encircling the building.

Gazette Staff
Published: 10/19/2017 12:29:46 AM

AMHERST — An Amherst church has agreed to provide sanctuary to a Springfield man facing deportation on Thursday.

First Congregational Church announced late Wednesday that it had taken in Lucio Perez, who came to the United States almost 20 years ago from Guatemala and has three children who are U.S. citizens. He entered the church shortly after Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied his stay of removal.

Perez, 35, is waiting for his case to be adjudicated by the Board of Immigration Appeals, and sought sanctuary in an effort to keep his family together as he waits for a decision, according to a press release from the church and from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Church officials said they will allow Perez to live in the church until his immigration appeal is resolved. Church members have transformed a meeting room into a bedroom for Perez, with a sitting area, microwave and small refrigerator.

“I am so thankful to the First Congregational Church of Amherst for opening the doors to me,” Perez said in the statement. “I am grateful for the support of the community and my family. Together we are strong.”

The Amherst church will be the first faith community in western Massachusetts to offer sanctuary for an undocumented immigrant.

“Our scriptures tell us to love our neighbors and love and care for the foreigners and the marginalized persons in our midst, just as God does,” the Rev. Vicki Kemper, of United Church of Christ, said in a statement. “Lucio is our neighbor and our brother, and he and his family deserve justice and peace. We welcome him into our church with open hearts and fervent prayers.”

Kemper said a network of faith communities and activist organizations will assist the First Congregational in protecting Perez.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center and other groups and faith leaders have been working for months for a resolution to Perez’s case that would allow him to stay with his family.

On Monday morning, about 140 people gathered outside the Springfield Department of Homeland Security to protest Perez’s deportation. Springfield police arrested 18 people on charges of misdemeanor trespassing for blocking the doors to the facility.

In September, ICE officials ordered Perez to leave the country by Oct. 19, forcing him to buy a plane ticket for that date. They fit him with an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor his location.

Perez works as a landscaper in Springfield and has no criminal record. He first came to the attention of authorities in 2009 when West Hartford police charged him with child abandonment while he stepped inside a Dunkin’ Donuts

Under President Obama, Perez’s deportation proceedings were put on hold as long as he checked in annually with immigration officials.

Perez’s lawyers have filed a motion to reopen his original case for cancellation of his removal.

“We are disappointed that Lucio’s stay was denied, but we have faith that his case will be reopened and won,” said Margaret Sawyer, of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, in a statement. “Lucio is a person of incredible strength and courage. We are so inspired to see First Church Amherst bravely welcome him to continue his struggle to keep his family together.”

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center and First Congregational Church will hold a press conference Thursday at noon at the church, 165 Main St.

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