Local News

Raleigh church members face immigration problems

Posted June 16, 2011 10:00 p.m. EDT
Updated June 17, 2011 7:59 a.m. EDT

— A Lumberton man said he and members of his church were detained for hours, belittled and coerced into signing documents by border patrol agents in Louisiana.

“We were intimidated. We are frightened,” Jeremias Villar said through an interpreter on Thursday.

Villar was among a group of 44 Latino members from the Iglesia Buen Pastor Church attending a religious event in Texas on the weekend of April 24.

The group, which included small children, was traveling in three church vans back to North Carolina, but they encountered a problem in Louisiana when they were stopped by border patrol and customs agents. 

“We were told it was because we looked suspicious,” Villar said. “I did not know being Latino means you are suspicious.”

Villar said the group was denied a lawyer and an interpreter.

“We were told if we did not sign papers, our families would be separated,” Villar said.

Villar said they were then brought to a detention center.

Jorge Calderon, also of Lumberton, was among the group that was detained for hours. He said some families had to sleep on the floor.

They were released the next day and allowed to return to North Carolina. 

Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, represents 22 of the church members now in immigration court. She said they were treated in a “very degrading and disrespectful way.”

Six of the church members have been deported.

Simpson refused to discuss the immigration status of her clients.

Simpson said the group was stopped 500 miles from the Mexican border in an act of racial profiling.

“They shouldn’t have been called in front of the immigration judge in the first place,” she said.

Attorneys for the group want evidence gathered in the traffic stop suppressed.

The group has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

WRAL News contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the case, but those calls have not been returned.

The group will be back in court in Sept. 22.