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Congressman calls arrest of man who sought sanctuary in Durham church 'entrapment'

Posted November 27, 2018 6:40 p.m. EST
Updated November 27, 2018 10:28 p.m. EST

— Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price blasted U.S. immigration officials on Tuesday for what he called an underhanded process to arrest an undocumented immigrant who sought sanctuary in a Durham church for much of the past year.

Samuel Oliver-Bruno, who has lived illegally in the U.S. for 22 years, was arrested last Friday at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Morrisville, where he had gone for an appointment on his appeal of a deportation order against him.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting for him at the office and took him into custody.

"The way he was arrested was just unacceptable. He was pursuing a legal course of action," Price said. "That, at best, is an impossible dilemma to put him in. At worst, it’s a kind of entrapment."

ICE said in a statement after the arrest that Oliver-Bruno "has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, has no outstanding appeals and has no legal basis to remain in the U.S."

USCIS spokesman Michael Bars declined to comment on Oliver-Bruno's case but said the agency schedules appointments at its offices only for people who have pending immigration benefit applications.

Oliver-Bruno was convicted in 2014 of using fraudulent papers to enter the U.S. after a visit to Mexico. He was released on a "Stay of Removal" to care for his ailing wife in Greenville.

For the past 11 months, he has lived in the CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham. ICE traditionally has not arrested people inside churches, hospitals or schools because of its "sensitive location" policy.

After his arrest, he again sought a deferral of the deportation order, but officials denied the request. He remains in custody at a detention center in Georgia but could be deported at any time.

"We need to focus enforcement on dangerous people, on people who are a threat to the community," Price said, noting that he spoke with top Department of Homeland Security officials on Tuesday to again advocate for Oliver-Bruno.

Legislative action is needed to fix immigration laws, Price said, but the government needs to exercise discretion until then.

"Until we get reform, we’re going to have to count on the decency and common sense of our enforcement agencies," he said. "One would hope for a common-sensical and compassionate resolution to this, but it appears ICE has given us just the opposite."

Group continues to support Samuel Oliver-Bruno

For family and friends who want Oliver-Bruno to stay, the situation looks bleak, but they were undeterred by Tuesday night's cold temperatures as they gathered in front of the Cary ICE offices to pray.

Oliver-Bruno's son, Daniel Oliver-Perez, who watched as his father was carried away, endured the cold to be with those who want to see him reunited with his father.

"I haven't had contact with him since Sunday and everything is going through my mind. What's going on? We don't know, but I have faith in God," he said.

Most people in attendance were aware that Oliver-Bruno's request for deferred deportation was denied, but they were undaunted.

"I was once an undocumented immigrant that fled war and poverty and I feel it's important to be here to show my solidarity," Jose Luis Villasenor said.

People of all ages and religious backgrounds prayed, sang or listened quietly. Bruno-Oliver's son said he's prepared to do even more.

"I'm going to still fight for my dad. I'm going to still fight. I'm not just going to lay down and cry," Oliver-Perez said.