Local News

After man's deportation to Mexico, Durham church seeks his return

Posted November 30, 2018 6:03 p.m. EST

Inside CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham on Friday, Samuel Oliver-Bruno's room was just as he left it.

Photos of his family were on the wall. His Bible was on the table.

“It’s a very strange thing to be in here,” said Cleve May, one of the church’s pastors. “I hear Samuel’s voice.”

Oliver-Bruno was deported to Mexico Thursday night after being arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last week. He had lived in sanctuary in the church for 11 months.

May said Oliver-Bruno’s son, Daniel Oliver-Perez, who is a U.S. citizen, was able to fly to Mexico to greet his father.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said Oliver-Bruno was convicted in 2014 of crossing the border illegally and had no legal basis to be in the U.S.

Cox said that, although many are upset by Oliver-Bruno's deportation, they should remember that ICE does not make the laws.

“Federal law, as passed by Congress, is what this agency enforces,” Cox said. This arrest, this removal, just like all others that ICE handles, was handled in full accordance with federal law and agency policy.”

Oliver-Bruno's supporters said they worry for his wife, who has a serious medical condition.

They said they believe she could not get the care she needs in Mexico. If the family is to be together, his supporters say, it must be in the United States.

If given the chance, May said the church would welcome Oliver-Bruno back to sanctuary.

ICE traditionally has not arrested people inside churches, hospitals or schools because of its "sensitive location" policy.

“The first call we would make would be to Robert Alfieri in Charlotte, in the ICE office, and we would say, ‘Samuel is back,’” May said. “‘He is here with us, and we’re going to stand with him again, just like we did last time.’”

Pastors from the Triangle were with Oliver-Bruno and his son in Mexico on Friday. They’re working out the next steps to try to bring Oliver-Bruno back.