Advocates’ letters press for reopening of Guatemalan immigrant’s case

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Lucio Perez, of Springfield, an undocumented immigrant facing deportation who took refuge at First Congregational Church of Amherst, Oct. 18, listens as his daughter, Lucy, 8, talks about missing seeing him, at the church in November. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Members of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir sing Oct. 19, 2017 outside of the First Congregational Church of Amherst, which is providing sanctuary to Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation. Perez is waiting for his case to be adjudicated by the Board of Immigration Appeals after Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied his stay of removal. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

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    Ruthy Woodring of Northampton, in custody of Springfield police, is led away from the Federal Building on Main Street in Springfield, Oct. 16, 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 FILE PHOTO

Published: 4/3/2018 11:47:52 PM

AMHERST — It has been almost half a year since Guatemalan immigrant Lucio Perez, looking to avoid deportation, took up sanctuary at First Congregational Church, where he remains confined as he waits for federal immigration officials to reopen his case.

In an effort to push the Board of Immigration Appeals, or BIA, to reconsider Perez’s case, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center has begun a letter-writing campaign that to date has drawn some 500 written requests to approve his motion to reopen his case. The group hopes to gather 1,000 such letters, and plans to hand-deliver them to federal immigration officials next week.

“There’s so much community support, and we just wanted to communicate that community support to ICE and the BIA,” Margaret Sawyer, a lead organizer at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, told the Gazette, using the acronym for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“I really am impressed always by what the community does for me,” Perez said by phone Tuesday. “They really are working hard for me.”

Sawyer said the 500 letters her group has received so far have all included photo identification, to verify the sender’s identity. She said federal immigration officials have already contacted her group to say they are aware of the letter-writing campaign.

Activists at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, together with local faith leaders, are planning to attempt to submit the letters at the Department of Homeland Security office in Springfield on the morning of April 11, when they plan to hold a rally similar to past protests at the location.

“It’s intended to show that people of faith stand with immigrants,” Sawyer, herself a pastor with the United Church of Christ, said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Perez’s supporters hope that those letters will ultimately help make the case that the BIA should reopen Perez’s case and grant him a stay of removal — requests his lawyer officially filed with immigration officials in July.

Almost six months after he first entered sanctuary, Perez said he hopes government officials take his supporters’ letters seriously, and that they provide him the opportunity to again be together with his wife and four children.

“For me it’s really hard,” Perez said. “But through all of this, God gives me strength every day.”

In November, Perez’s attorney Matt Cameron told the Gazette that in such matters the board can take up to six months or more to make a decision.

“I understand that the board is also receiving a much higher volume of these than recently due to ICE’s recent commitment to enforcing against all outstanding deportation orders with no opportunity for any individual humanitarian discretion for any reason,” Cameron wrote in an email at the time.

Messages left for Cameron Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.

ICE, for its part, has filed with the BIA its opposition to the reopening of Perez’s case.

“By not sanctioning the respondent in this case, the board will encourage others to undertake similar means of outrageous behavior after the board has denied their stays of removal or motions to reopen,” senior ICE attorney John Marley wrote the board in an October filing obtained by the Gazette.

But Perez, of Springfield, is now no longer the only immigrant from western Massachusetts to take up sanctuary at a local church. On March 26, South Congregational United Church of Christ in Springfield took in Gisella Collazo, a Peruvian immigrant facing deportation, and her two U.S. citizen children.

However, unlike the open-arms response Perez has received from the town government in Amherst — a “sanctuary community” that limits its cooperation with ICE — South Congregational Church has received threats of a crackdown from Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno.

Sarno has opposed the idea of making Springfield a sanctuary city, though last week six city councilors proposed an order to prevent any city employees from stopping the church from providing sanctuary.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center is encouraging supporters to send or hand-deliver letters of support for Perez to its office at 20 Hampton Ave. in Northampton, or to send them via email to lettersforlucio@gmail.com.

The letters should be addressed to “immigration officials,” include a copy of photo identification if possible and make a call to approve Perez’s stay of removal and motion to reopen his case.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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