16 Nov Immigrant takes sanctuary in New Orleans church, first to do so in Louisiana – The Times-Picayune – 11/16/17
November 16, 2017
Immigrant takes sanctuary in New Orleans church, first to do so in Louisiana
by Maria Clark
Torres, a Salvadorian and father of two U.S. born children, has lived in the country since he was 18 years old. He was expected to check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday morning.
“I packed my suitcase yesterday before taking her to school”, he said in Spanish speaking about his older daughter, Julissa, 8. “When she came home she called me and asked, ‘Why weren’t you there to pick me up?’
“I told her, ‘I am fighting to stay with you,'” Torres said.
Like thousands of Latino workers, Torres came to New Orleans in 2006 to work in demolition and construction after Hurricane Katrina. He was arrested and charged with a first-offense DUI in Jefferson Parish in 2013, but said that the charge has been expunged from his record after he completed court-ordered community work.
Julissa and his other daughter, Brittany, 2, were with him at the church Wednesday.
Torres is being represented by two attorneys who are working with him on his deportation case and helping him seek a T-Visa, which is given to victims of human trafficking within the U.S., according to Rachel Taber, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers.
Torres says he was forced to work without pay after having his Salvadorian passport taken away from him when he was 18 and living in rural Texas, according to Taber.
Thomas Byrd, the spokesperson for the New Orleans ICE field office said in a written statement, “While the United States welcomes lawful immigrants and visitors, our borders are not open to illegal migration. Those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, or who have violated the terms of their visas, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, have no pending appeal, and do not qualify for relief must be removed.”
He added that the decision by ICE to previously exercise prosecutorial discretion and not remove a person who a federal immigration judge has ordered removed “in no way precludes the agency from subsequently executing that judicial order based upon a subsequent reevaluation of those circumstances.”
First Grace United Methodist Church is one of three New Orleans churches that have publically announced they would provide a sanctuary space for immigrants fearing possible deportation. St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade Avenue and Community Church Unitarian Universalist in Lakeview, have also offered sanctuary space and are among hundreds of faith-based locations around the country that have offered space to immigrants.
The new sanctuary movement is rooted in similar efforts that took place in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua prompted a wave of immigration then, with tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in their home countries requesting asylum in the U.S.
Pastor Shawn Anglim of First Grace United Methodist said that the church began working on becoming a sanctuary space soon after the presidential election in 2016, fearing that there would be an increase in immigration-related arrests. They have worked closely with congregations from other faith-based institutions to support immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the city.
“The word sanctuary means to harbor and to protect. We have a long history of providing sanctuary at our church. We have a shelter for homeless women and children, we have two schools for children with autism–we have been doing this for a long time,” he said.
Anglim said Torres will reside in a communal living space inside the church. He’ll be able to work with his attorneys and be visited by his family, but Torres doesn’t plan to leave the building.
Bill Quigley, an attorney working with First Grace United Methodist since they decided to offer sanctuary last year said that nationally there is a policy restricts ICE agents from arresting individuals seeking refuge in ‘sensitive’ locations such as churches, schools and hospitals.
In his statement Byrd said that the ICE sensitive locations policy, which remains in effect, “provides that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided and any enforcement action requires either prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action. It is solely a self-imposed ICE policy. Also, a final order of removal issued by a federal immigration judge does not expire and will remain in effect no matter the location of an individual.”
“This of course is a policy and it can be overturned but the hope is that they continue to abide by it,” Quigley said.