Local News

Church rallies around pastor facing deportation

Posted September 4, 2010 10:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 5, 2010 9:19 a.m. EDT

— A Chatham County pastor who faces deportation after 37 years in the United States returned to ministering to his congregation Saturday after posting bond in Atlanta.

Hector Villaneuva, 40, has a valid green card, is the pastor of the Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Siler City and has a wife, four children and two foster children he's in the process of adopting.

Villaneuva had recently applied for U.S. citizenship, but he was denied after immigration officials discovered a conviction in California for commercial robbery 15 years ago. That led to his arrest last month.

“I thought it was a dream. I thought it was a mistake and they (immigration agents) came to the wrong house,” Villaneuva said Saturday of his arrest.

Villaneuva said immigration agents allowed him to say goodbye to his wife and children. He was then detained at the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville, Ga., for more than two weeks.

A judge in Atlanta ruled Thursday that he was eligible for a $15,000 bond, and he was released Friday.

Villaneuva says the commercial robbery conviction was due to a bad check. He said he was homeless and had a drug addiction at the time of the crime. Since then, Villaneuva has turned his life around.

“He is using his story and his past mistakes to reach out to others and reach out to the Hispanics,” Iglesia Bautista la Roca member Maria Moore said.

Villaneuva said he hasn't been told when his court appearance will be, but he plans to do all he can to stay in the United States.

“God’s on my side,” he said.