Immigrant Living in Church for Three Years to Return Home

  • Amanda Casanova Contributor
  • Published Jan 28, 2021
Immigrant Living in Church for Three Years to Return Home

An immigrant from El Salvador who has been living in a church sanctuary for more than three years will be able to leave the church after President Joe Biden approved an executive order that temporarily stops the deportation of undocumented immigrants, Religion News Services reports.

Jose Chicas, 55, has been living at the St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. He is planning to return home to his wife and children, who live in Raleigh. Chica has been living in the U.S. for 35 years.

“I’m so happy,” he said. “I feel good.”

Chicas is one of about 40 people who fled to the sanctuary of churches after President Donald Trump launched efforts to find and to deport undocumented immigrants. Following Biden’s new executive order, many of those immigrants are reaching out to their lawyers.

“Each person claiming sanctuary will make their own decision on next steps in light of the recent memo that includes a pause on deportation — a critical step in the right direction as we continue to work to stop deportations and liberate people in sanctuary,” said Noel Andersen, grassroots coordinator for Church World Service, which has tracked sanctuary cases.

“ICE has a history of being a rogue agency, so many might want to continue to advocate for their own stay of deportation to ensure they will not be deported and can stay united with their families and communities,” he added.

According to Religion News Service, some 38 people publicly claimed sanctuary across the U.S. to avoid being deported. Churches, schools and hospitals are considered “sensitive locations” where federal immigration officers are less likely to make arrests.

In Greensboro, a Guatemalan grandmother has been living in an Episcopal church since May 2017.

“I think it would be the greatest thing in the world if she could go home,” said Randall Keeney, vicar of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where Ortega has been living. “She’s a remarkable person to put up with this for more than three years.”

Biden’s order places a 100-day temporary pause on deportations, except in the cases of suspected terrorism, espionage or danger to national security.

Photo credit: Unsplash/NeOnbrand

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.