A Meriden father who sought sanctuary in a New Haven church when he was supposed to be deported Tuesday to Ecuador said he does not want to be separated from his children and is prepared to stay as long as he has the support of his family in the decision.
Marco Reyes, a father of three and the family's sole provider, learned in July when he reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as scheduled, that he would have to leave behind the life he built in Meriden and head back to Ecuador by Aug. 8.
Instead, Reyes took sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven with his family members.
U.S. Customs and Immigration officials said that a federal immigration judge issued a final order of removal for Reyes in 2009 and Reyes was granted a stay of removal to allow him to pursue legal options in his immigration proceedings but has since exhausted his legal options.
Reyes explained that he came to the U.S. in 1997 because he wanted to build a better life for his family. He did that by working a construction job as he and his wife raised their three children. He said he has no criminal record.
Reyes has been living in Connecticut with his wife and children since 1997 and the problem came in 2007 when the family was vacationing and accidentally crossed into Canada.
Federal immigration authorities apprehended Reyes as they tried to return and supporters said he has been checking in with ICE since 2016.
“I am very honest in this country. Very, very honest. I pay my taxes, I pay everything. So I don’t understand. Why me?” Reyes said.
Reyes said that it is frustrating to be stuck at the church because he cannot provide for his family, but that all the support he has received from the community has been a blessing. Senator Richard Blumenthal has called on ICE to reconsider the order, saying the move is a result of the Trump administration’s “cruel and inhumane immigration policies.”
His 12-year-old daughter Adriana, who is staying at the church with her father, said she hated the thought of being separated and wished that President Donald Trump would consider what deportation does to families.
“He should think about all those families that their families are getting destroyed, separated – maybe they won’t get to see them for – maybe forever,” she said.
She also asked that people who wanted her father to leave stop and think about that the situation really means, and how they would feel if it were them.
“You don’t like when you’re separated from your family. You never want to go through that,” she said.
Shawn Neudauer, ICE spokesman for the New England area said that Reyes is now considered an ICE fugitive for refusing to comply with the removal order and will be arrested when encountered. It is ICE's policy not to apprehend people in sensitive locations like churches unless there are pressing circumstances.
"A federal immigration judge’s orders cannot be ignored. ICE and the courts can delay acting on an order to ensure all applicable legal processes and possible benefits are followed and/or reviewed, which occurred in this case. However, after these legal options are exhausted, ICE must still carry out the judge’s order in the absence of any other mitigating factors," Neudauer said in a statement.
Reyes is not the first Connecticut resident to seek refuge in a church while fighting deportation.
Nury Chavarria, a mother of four, who left Guatemala in 1993, when she was 19, sought sanctuary at Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Church in New Haven, and has since been granted a stay that will allow her to remain in the country.