CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – After living in the US for 32 years, a Salvadoran-born pastor became the third undocumented immigrant in North Carolina to ask for sanctuary after he received a notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordering him to leave the country.
“I’m not a criminal. I made this decision because I want to be with my family and my children,” Jose Chicas, 52, told EFE on Wednesday.
Chicas, who came to the US seeking political asylum in 1985 after escaping his homeland’s civil war, received refuge on June 27 at the School for Conversion (SFC), a religious educational center in Durham, located 24 miles from the state capital of Raleigh.
He was instructed by ICE to abandon the country by June 28, but he sought refuge with the SFC and is asking ICE to suspend his deportation order.
Chicas has been married to Sandra Marquina for 25 years and is the father of four children – ages 11, 18, 19 and 22 – three of whom are US citizens, although the fourth benefits from the Deferred Action, or DACA program, which has delayed potential deportation.
“I don’t want them to deport my dad. I need him at my side,” the youngest child, Ezequiel, told EFE. “I want him to return home.”
On May 31, Guatemalan Juana Luz Tobar took refuge in the San Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a month later Mexican Minerva Cisneros did the same along with her two children at the Congregational United Church of Christ in the same city.
At a press conference held at SFC headquarters on Wednesday, representatives of different organizations and activists such as Rev. William Barber, of the Greenleaf church, said that they will fight for Chicas and his family, and they asked North Carolina lawmakers to intercede on the pastor’s behalf.
Chicas admitted that in the 1990s he struggled with alcoholism and, during that time, he was charged and found guilty with driving under the influence and domestic abuse. However, he says he changed his life around when he found God 17 years ago, later becoming the pastor of the Jesus Is the Bread of Life Evangelical Church in Raleigh.
Chicas’ lawyer, Helen Parsonage, said that the ICE decision makes no sense.
“He fled violence and sought political asylum. His life has changed and he’s a good man who serves the community. We hope that ICE will give a favorable response in his case,” she told EFE.
“If I return to El Salvador, they’ll kill me. I have nothing there. I’ve made my whole life in the United States. My family and my kids are here. I hope that ICE reconsiders my petition and suspends the deportation,” Chicas said.