Faith communities to unite in prayer for local undocumented immigrants on Wednesday

  • Hundreds of people join hands in a public action at First Congregational Church of Amherst, Oct. 20, in a symbolic encircling of the church that has provided sanctuary for Guatemalan native Lucio Perez of Springfield since Oct. 18, 2017. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 2/26/2019 10:50:43 PM

Local faith leaders and members of faith communities will gather on Wednesday to offer prayers for Lucio Perez, the longtime Springfield resident and father of four who has been living in sanctuary at the First Congregational Church in Amherst since October 2017.

Religious leaders will join Perez at the First Church Amherst for prayer at 1 p.m. Services will be held at 12 congregations with members of their faith communities at 7 p.m. to pray for Perez and all immigrants in sanctuary fighting deportation. Supporters at every vigil will sign a letter showing support for Perez and demanding action for his case and will be sent to immigration officials.

“Lucio is a man of deep faith who prays without ceasing,” said the Rev. Vicki Kemper of First Church Amherst, UCC, in a statement announcing the vigils. “He has been separated from his wife and children far too long. It is time for people of faith to surround him in prayer — that immigration authorities will reopen his case, stay the deportation order against him, and return him to his family in Springfield.”

Perez came to the United States from Guatemala at age 17 in 1999. He worked in poultry processing in Delaware to support his family before moving to Springfield with his wife and three children in 2008. As a result of a minor run-in with police, Perez faced deportation in 2009. The charges were dropped, and the Obama administration granted him five stays of deportation. Following the election of Donald Trump, Perez was ordered to leave the US.

Irida Kakhtiranova, a Russian immigrant, is also in sanctuary with a local faith community. Kakhtiranova entered sanctuary at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Northampton and Florence on April 6, 2018. Prior to sanctuary, she worked, paid taxes, and raised a family for 15 years. She has been in the United States since 2003 and is facing deportation for overstaying an educational visa.

“It’s important for us all to be united as a community,” Perez said in a statement. “God calls on us to pray for one another. I know many don’t believe it, but prayer has power and can break all chains. Prayer also gives us more courage to move forward, and strengthens our faith that God will carry us through.”

Under Obama’s proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, Lucio and millions of other immigrant parents would have received status. Perez entered sanctuary immediately after his stay was denied by the Trump administration. An appeal of his case is pending at the Bureau of Immigration Appeals.

“We believe Lucio has the right to remain in this country,” said Rev. Margaret Sawyer, Lead Organizer with the Pioneer Valley Works Center. “We support his brave and faithful act of standing up to an unjust deportation. We call on people across Massachusetts to raise their prayers and hopes together for his release, for Irida’s release, and for the release of all who face deportation.”

“Coming together in prayer will renew our hope and encourage Lucio and all of us to be strong as we continue to work for justice together,” said Rev. Kemper.

Vigils will be held in the following locations:

First Church Amherst, 7 p.m.

Jewish Community of Amherst, 7 p.m.

Amherst South Congregational Church, 7 p.m.

Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, with First Churches of Northampton and Edwards Church of Northampton, 7 p.m.

Northampton Friends Meeting, 9:30 a.m.

Haydenville Congregational Church, 7 p.m.

Congregation B’Nai Israel of Northampton, 7 p.m.

St. John’s Episcopal Church of Williamstown, 7 p.m.

Christ Church Cathedral (Springfield, MA), 7 p.m.

First Congregational Church in Billerica, 7 p.m.

Cathedral in the Light, Town Commons in Greenfield, MA, Sunday, March 2

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