When Nelson Pinos taught his 6-year-old son how to ride a bike, he could not do it in the park. He had to show the boy in the basement of a church.
The native of Ecuador has lived in the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, Conn., since late 2017, finding sanctuary from deportation there after rejecting orders from immigration authorities to board a one-way flight to South America.
Pino’s attorneys will make oral arguments on Tuesday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Paul to try to have his case reopened and give him a chance to not only leave the church, but also to be with his three American-born children. The case has drawn national attention, with Pinos telling CNN from the church in December: “I can’t leave this place. I have never been in jail but this is jail.”
As President Donald Trump’s administration cracks down on illegal immigration, some churches have stepped up to offer people in the country illegally sanctuary from deportation. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not make arrests at “sensitive locations” such as houses of worship. About 50 churches in Minnesota have offered to be sanctuaries for immigrants or support the sanctuary movement.
Pinos migrated to New York from Ecuador in 1993. During a trip to Minnesota the following year, he was arrested and released by immigration authorities. He returned home to New York and later said he had never received a court notification and later a deportation order issued in absentia when he didn’t show up.
Because they were mailed to a Minnesota address, he didn’t find out about the notices until 2012.
Even after he began reporting to ICE for periodic check-ins, authorities told him he was not a priority for deportation, according to attorneys.
But in October of 2017, Nelson was ordered to leave the country when he went to visit ICE for a regular status renewal. Attorney Yazmin Rodriguez said they want the court to look at whether Pinos was informed of his rights and responsibilities when he was placed in removal proceedings.
ICE spokesman John Mohan told the Associated Press that the agency does not comment on specifics of immigration cases being heard before an immigration judge.
But in a statement, ICE said Pinos failed to depart as scheduled and then sought shelter in the church. He was then declared an immigration fugitive. Seeking sanctuary at a site categorized by ICE as a sensitive location may delay “but does not void” ICE’s authority to enforce a removal order, the agency said, according to the Associated Press.
Pinos has worked as a machine setup operator at a factory for the last 15 years, paying income taxes.
“Going to Ecuador would be devastating for our family,” Kelly Pinos, his teenage daughter, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times last year. “My siblings and I were born in New Haven and our entire life is here.”
Kelly Pinos appeared at a news conference in Minneapolis on Monday along with her sister Arley, her father’s attorneys, and various immigration advocates.
The Rev. Vicki Flippin of First and Summerfield led a prayer and called for people to remember the families and communities behind immigrants living in the country illegally.
Kelly Pinos read a letter from Nelson Pinos in which he noted he had been in the U.S. for 26 years and had no criminal record.
“I want to be able to see my kids fulfill their hopes and dreams,” he wrote.