About 100 people gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Cary Tuesday evening to pray for a Mexican man arrested by the agency last week.
People bundled in gloves, hats and blankets sang and prayed for Samuel Oliver-Bruno, 47, outside the ICE office in Cary. Many held white candles.
Oliver-Bruno went to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services appointment Friday in Morrisville, where he was arrested by ICE officers after entering the building. USCIS had asked him to come in to provide fingerprints.
As of Tuesday he remained at Stewart Detention Center, an immigration jail in Georgia.
Oliver-Bruno’s son, Daniel Oliver Perez, 19, spoke to reporters about his faith before the vigil started.
“I believe in God, and he’s in control of this,” he said.
“As you can see, me and CityWell will fight for his case. It was hurtful seeing my dad get detained but I’m going to see him soon,” he said. CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham has provided sanctuary for Oliver-Bruno for the past year.
Faith leaders from different religions spoke from the bed of a truck to the the crowd. Also attending were two faith leaders from Greensboro who have provided or are providing sanctuary to other immigrants: Julie Peeples, minister of Congregational United Church of Christ and Randall Keeney, vicar at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
Tuesday’s vigil came a day after Congressional representatives called the response to Oliver-Bruno’s immigration appeal a “sham.”
His petition for deferred deportation was denied, U.S. Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said in a statement Monday night after learning federal immigration officials had determined Oliver-Bruno had no legal basis for remaining in the United States. They called the response to his appeal a “miscarriage of justice.”
“Mr. Oliver-Bruno’s case exemplifies the anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump administration,” the statement said.
“Mr. Oliver-Bruno — a decades-long resident of North Carolina with no significant criminal history and a loving family that includes his U.S. citizen son — was forced into hiding, taking sanctuary in a church to avoid being deported and leaving his sick wife without medical care,” it continued. “He was given strict instructions to appear at a USCIS office to provide fingerprints for his application to defer his deportation, and when he did so, he was abruptly apprehended by ICE and shipped off to a detention facility to await a sham appeal.”
The congressmen are calling on Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to reverse Oliver-Bruno’s order of removal and for “a full and thorough investigation into the Department’s improper efforts to apprehend [him].”
Living in sanctuary
Oliver-Bruno has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
Last year, he moved into CityWell United Methodist Church because ICE had notified him it would be executing his deportation order, which he received in 2014. The agency generally refrains from arresting or interviewing people in “sensitive locations,” like churches, hospitals and schools based on a self-imposed policy.
Oliver-Bruno filed a petition for deferred action and received a notice from USCIS to appear at the Morrisville office Friday. A crowd of supporters accompanied him.
He entered the building with his son, CityWell Pastor Cleve May, and his legal team.
Through a glass door, those outside could see a scuffle between the ICE officers, Oliver-Bruno and Oliver Perez. ICE officers, dressed in civilian clothes, arrested Oliver-Bruno and escorted him through the back of the building and into a van parked in the back.
Some of his supporters formed a chain around the van, blocking it for about two hours, praying and singing.
Morrisville police arrested 27 people, and charged 26 with failing to disperse and one with resisting a public officer.
Oliver Perez was charged him with assaulting a government officer.
On Tuesday night Morrisville Police Chief Patrice Andrews gave a report of the incident to the Morrisville Town Council, saying the department responded to a 911 call about Friday’s incident and had no prior knowledge of ICE’s plan to arrest Oliver-Bruno.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said the agency learned Oliver-Bruno would be going to the USCIS office from social media posts days before his appointment and that ICE arrests at USCIS offices are not unusual.
In an earlier statement, Cox described the arrest as a “targeted enforcement action.”
“Mr. Oliver-Bruno is a convicted criminal who has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, has no outstanding appeals, and has no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” the statement said.
Oliver-Bruno crossed the border in 1994 to live in Greenville, N.C. His wife, Julia Perez Pacheco, followed him two years later with a work permit.
It’s unclear when Oliver-Bruno returned to Mexico, but in May 2014, he tried to re-enter to be with his wife, who was undergoing open heart surgery.
At that time, Border Patrol arrested him because he attempted to enter the country using fraudulent documents. He pleaded guilty to illegally entering the country with false documents later that month, federal court documents show.
He was released from custody in June 2014 and was subject to removal. But the government granted him a variety of appeals and acts of discretion until last year, when ICE informed Oliver-Bruno it would stop doing so, Cox said.
Federal and North Carolina databases do not show any other convictions for Oliver-Bruno.