Second Man Seeks Sanctuary at New Haven UMC

Second Man Seeks Sanctuary at New Haven UMC


Nelson Pinos, center, with son Brandon and daughter Kelly, is joined by supporters after seeking sanctuary at First and Summerfield UMC in New Haven, Conn. From left are John Jairo Lugo with Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA); UMC pastors Rev. Juhye Hahn and Rev. Paul Fleck. At right is Jesus Morales Sanchez with ULA and the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance.
By Joanne S. Utley
Editor, The Vision

Just a week after Marco Reyes Alvarez left sanctuary at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, a second Ecuadorean immigrant has taken refuge at the New Haven, Conn., church.

Early on November 30, Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, 47, entered the church to avoid being deported back to the country he left some 25 years ago.

According to Jesus Morales Sanchez of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA), during an October 4 check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Pinos was told to report back with a one-way plane ticket to Ecuador dated November 30.

At a press conference at the church on the day he took sanctuary, Pinos told the gathering, through an interpreter, that he made the decision because he “has a family to fight for . . . I don’t want to abandon them.” Pinos, who lives in New Haven, has three children – ages 15, 12 and five – with his longtime partner, Elsa.

The children are all U.S. citizens. He is the sole provider for the family. ICE has a policy of not entering houses of worships to arrest immigrants.

“God will give me strength to fight for my family . . . to be free,” he said.

Pinos’ oldest daughter, Kelly, also spoke about a three-page letter she wrote to ICE explaining how difficult it had been for her and her family.

“I can’t concentrate in school,” she said. “I want everything to be right  . . . I want ICE to know that separating families is not right.”
Lawyer Yasmin Rodriguez answers questions during a November 30 press conference with her client, Nelson Pinos, behind her.
Pinos, a factory worker, came to the United States in May 1992. ICE picked him up in a raid in Minnesota; after moving to Connecticut, he missed a court date in Minnesota on his deportation. Yasmin Rodriguez, a lawyer with Esperanza Center for Law and Advocacy, said that Pinos’ motion to reopen his case is pending with an immigration court in Minnesota. Rodriguez has requested a temporary stay so the court has time to review Pinos’ case while he is still in the country.

“We’re fighting an unjust system . . . and we’re committed to continue the effort,” she said as chants of “Keep Nelson – Home” rang up from the crowd.

At the press conference, each speaker stood behind a lectern that had been crafted by Marco Reyes. Reyes, an immigrant from Ecuador, took sanctuary at First and Summerfield on August 8, the day he was ordered to leave the country as part of the current U.S. administration’s crackdown on immigration. He made the lectern in gratitude to the congregation and its pastor, Rev. Juhye Hahn.

The day before Thanksgiving – and after 105 days at the church – Reyes was granted another stay of his deportation order. He got the good news in a phone call during a luncheon at the church with Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other supporters. He was able to return home to his family while his lawyers seek a review of his deportation by the federal appeals court and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Reyes, who is married with three children, came to the United States in 1997. The Meriden resident is a construction worker and the sole provider for his family. In 2009, Reyes was issued an order of deportation, but had been allowed to remain in the country with his family through a series of stays of that order. But in July, Reyes was informed that ICE officials would remove him on August 8.

In a press conference following his release, Reyes, 45, speaking through a translator, offered a word of hope for others in his situation.

“I also want to give a message to every immigrant out there in the country: Don’t give up Because if I can do it, everyone can,” he said.

Rev. Hahn called the circumstances around the reprieve “a perfect moment in a way.” On November 21, the church had gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner and to celebrate the 24th wedding anniversary of Reyes and his wife, Fanny Torres. “It was a perfect Thanksgiving gift.”
Rev. Juhye Hahn speaks at the November 30 press conference at her church, First and Summerfield UMC.
Her congregation at First and Summerfield had not even had time to debrief after their experience with Reyes before Pinos arrived. But the biblical mandate for the church to be a place of safe haven was clear.

“We cannot turn people away. We had to say yes,” Hahn said.

During the press conference announcing Pinos arrival, Hahn had noted that the lectionary readings the Sunday before Thanksgiving had been about offering care for those who are hungry, thirsty, sick or in prison.

“As a follower of Jesus, you are there when there is a need,” she said.