Raleigh, N.C. — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ended its attempt to deport 22 members of a Raleigh church, supporters of the group said Tuesday.
Members of the Iglesia Buen Pastor Church were returning from a religious event in Texas in April 2011 when U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents stopped their vans in Louisiana. The group was detained for hours before being allowed to return to North Carolina the following day.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents the church members, called the incident an act of racial profiling and alleged that the church members' civil rights had been violated.
“This case was a long shot; we had justice on our side but not the law," Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement Tuesday. "We did not consider giving up for a minute, and the lives of 22 individuals have been fundamentally changed because of that. They can imagine their futures now.”
Simpson said the cases were dropped against the church members under a policy DHS has followed in recent months giving officials discretion to administratively close immigration cases of people in deportation proceedings if they don't pose a public safety risk, have been in the U.S. for a number of years and have filed civil rights claims against the department.
“When I heard the news that our case was administratively closed, I prayed with my family in thanks to God," church member Jorge Calderon said in a statement. "We were haunted by what happened. The uncertainty of our future brought emotional stress into our lives, especially for my children. Their friends, their school and their lives are here, and I could not tell them whether we would have to leave.”