Local News

Man who sought sanctuary in Durham church deported to Mexico

Posted November 29, 2018 5:01 a.m. EST
Updated November 30, 2018 12:57 p.m. EST

— An undocumented immigrant who was arrested last week after seeking sanctuary inside a Durham church has been deported.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Samuel Oliver-Bruno was removed from the U.S. to be returned to his native Mexico at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

The advocacy group that has been helping the Oliver-Bruno and his family said on social media that hat Oliver-Bruno's son, Daniel, was able to fly to Mexico and hug his father for the first time in a week.

An ICE spokesman said that while people were upset about Oliver-Bruno's deportation, ICE's job is to follow the law.

"ICE enforces federal law," Bryan Cox said. "If persons disagree about what that federal law should be, that's certainly a fair debate to be had, but that is a debate to be had by Congress and other officials."

Earlier in the day, Durham's mayor, county commissioners, and city council members stood in front of City Hall, surrounded by Oliver-Bruno's family and friends, to show their support for him and to condemn ICE's actions.

Speakers at the emotionally-charged meeting included Oliver-Bruno's pastor and Oliver-Bruno's son, Daniel, who was called in via video.

Oliver-Bruno had been living in sanctuary in a Durham church for almost a year before he was detained Friday when he left for an immigration appointment.

Supporters on Thursday morning said Oliver-Bruno's deportation would be detrimental to his son and also to his wife, who has serious health issues.

Officials on Thursday urged listeners to call our senators and the Department of Homeland Security to plea for Oliver-Bruno's release. Multiple community leaders told Oliver-Bruno's family that Durham stands with them.

Oliver-Bruno was convicted in 2014 of using fraudulent papers to cross the border. ICE says his case received all appropriate legal processes and appeals.

Oliver-Bruno's supporters say he is not a threat to society, that he is instead a benefit to society, and that they want him back here

Oliver-Bruno's supporters have held multiple events since his arrest.

There are several other people in North Carolina living in churches who are impacted by Oliver-Bruno's arrest, including Pastor Joe Chicas, who has lived on the property of St. John’s Baptist Church in Durham for 17 months.

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

Chicas said watching what happened to Oliver-Bruno, a friend, confirmed what he already thought: He can’t dare to set a foot off the church’s property.

He said he would speak with Oliver-Bruno often, both commiserating about the challenges of living in churches.

“I talked to him over the phone,” Chicas said. “He called me every week, and I called to him and talked about sanctuary.”

Chicas said Oliver-Bruno was optimistic about his appointment Friday with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Chicas was shocked and saddened, he said, to see the news that his friend was detained by ICE at that appointment.

“My family, my little son, he is very nervous,” Chicas said. “He said, ‘Daddy, you cannot go outside.”

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a minister at St. John’s Baptist Church. He said what happened to Oliver-Bruno affects him and other members of the church.

“What ICE did to trick and trap Samuel is really an attack on the whole sanctuary community,” Wilson-Hartgrove said.

He said the sanctuary community will continue to stand behind Oliver-Bruno and keep fighting his deportation.

“The people who have committed to sanctuary are going to put all of our bodies on the line and continue to fight this fight,” Wilson-Hartgrove said

“None of us wants to live in a country where people are treated this way,” he continued.

Chicas said that on Friday, the day Oliver-Bruno was arrested, he noticed a government car parked outside the church for hours.

He said he suspects it was ICE.