RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Mexican immigrant who took refuge in a North Carolina church for 11 months won’t be deported until immigration officials decide his pending request to stay in the U.S., two congressmen said Monday.
U.S. Rep. David Price tweeted that he and fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield received assurances from immigration officials that Samuel Oliver-Bruno won’t be removed until his claim is settled. Price said he was pushing Homeland Security officials to release Oliver-Bruno immediately, saying his arrest Friday at an immigration office was “unacceptable.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox confirmed federal officials have agreed to allow the case to be completed, even though Oliver-Bruno could legally be deported now. Online records list Oliver-Bruno, 47, as being held in a Georgia detention center.
Oliver-Bruno was arrested Friday at an immigration office near Raleigh after he left the church to have his fingerprints taken while he applies to stay in the U.S. to financially support his son and ailing wife. He had been living in the Durham church since late 2017 to avoid immigration officers, who generally don’t make arrests in churches and other sensitive locations.
Plainclothes officers detained him when he entered the Morrisville office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Outside the office, more than two-dozen of his supporters were arrested on misdemeanor charges including resisting officers after some blocked the van being used to drive Oliver-Bruno away.
USCIS issued a statement Friday saying it doesn’t discuss individual cases of people seeking to defer deportation. But the agency said it would not schedule an appointment for someone who didn’t have a pending application.
ICE previously said Oliver-Bruno, who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, had no legal basis to be in the country. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to using false documents to try to re-enter the U.S. in Texas after a trip outside the country, according to court records.
On Monday, several dozen supporters of Oliver-Bruno gathered in Raleigh to demand his release. Some who were arrested Friday addressed the crowd, including Oliver-Bruno’s pastor of more than a decade, the Rev. Ismael Ruiz-Millan.
Ruiz-Millan said he joined Friday’s protest because he was tired of watching from a distance while immigration policies separate families: “We cannot afford to be silenced anymore.”
The Rev. Ernesto Barriguete, who was also charged Friday, said he spoke to Oliver-Bruno by phone Sunday and that he was in good spirits. He quoted Oliver-Bruno as saying that he knows that “the Lord is working” through his case.