Local News

Living in sanctuary 'like jail,' Raleigh man facing deportation says

Posted December 20, 2017 5:04 p.m. EST
Updated December 20, 2017 11:45 p.m. EST

— Jose Chicas spends a lot of time on a porch of a home run by St. John’s Baptist Church in Durham, looking out on a street where he dares not walk.

Chicas fled a civil war in his native El Salvador three decades ago and has lived in the U.S. ever since. Earlier this year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him he had to leave the country. He said he believes ICE's stance is linked to his convictions for impaired driving and domestic violence 20 years ago.

Instead of leaving, however, he sought sanctuary in late June at the church on Onslow Street. ICE policy is not to arrest people on church property, so Chicas feels safe as long as he stays at the church and the house it has.

"I cannot go outside in the streets. I just stay over here in the parking lot or the house or go a little bit outside and come back inside again," he said. "[If] ICE see me in the street, he can catch me. I don’t want to go back to my country."

Chicas, 52, who is pastor of Evangelica Jesus de la Iglesias in Raleigh, is now limited to preaching on Facebook and occasionally in the church.

"We’ve been delighted to have him as a preacher and a prophet among us," said Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, associate minister at St. John's Baptist. "Here’s a man in confinement, reading scriptures that were written from confinement. It really enlightens us to what the scripture is really about and to the hope that they bring for someone facing this kind of challenge."

Chicas has made the predominantly black congregation of the church more aware of the struggles for undocumented people facing deportation, Wilson-Hartgrove said.

"The new [Trump Administration] policy decision to simply remove people and separate them from their families is an act of violence we want to stand against," he said.

Life in confinement remains a struggle for Chicas, a husband and father of four, and his family.

"(It's) very, very difficult. This is like jail," he said. "It’s a house, but it’s like jail.

"My wife, she is in front to pastor [at the Raleigh church], working, take care of my home, my family, coming over here. It’s hard for her, too hard for her," he said.

Chicas said he’s learned to find joy in the most basic tasks, such as taking out the trash. He's also thankful for frequent visits and support from local people.

"The community here in Durham is very good, very nice people," he said. "Every day coming over here, saying, 'Jose, what do you need? You need something?' I have everything over here."

Although he's gained enough confidence to step outside the church and spend time on the porch, he expects to remain in sanctuary at the church until President Donald Trump is out of office. He prays daily that Trump and the leaders in Congress soften their stance on undocumented immigrants like him.

"This president ... he not think about the families. He not think nothing about that," he said.

Chicas is one of four people in North Carolina living in sanctuary. Two are in Durham, one is in Raleigh and one is in Greensboro.

"I believe in God, one day, he take me out over here," he said. "One day, I’ll stay with my family."