ICE deports Mexican man who left church in Durham for immigration appointment

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement deported Samuel Oliver-Bruno Thursday evening, almost a week after the agency arrested him when he left the Durham church where he lived to attend an immigration appointment.

The agency deported Oliver-Bruno from the U.S. to Mexico, according to ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox.

“Many among family and friends are traumatized by the violence employed by ICE in this detainment and deportation operation,” said CityWell United Methodist Church Rev. Cleve May in a statement about Oliver-Bruno’s deportation.

“Samuel’s family, church and community supporters are appalled at the flagrant disregard of ICE’s own internal protocols that discourage executing raids in churches and in public assemblies,” the statement continued.

May addressed the definition of “sanctuary” places. ICE generally doesn’t arrest or interview people in “sanctuary” locations, such as churches, schools and hospitals, sites of public religious ceremonies or sites of public demonstrations, based on a self-imposed policy established in 2012.

May called the gathering at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office a “worship service in prayer” and that Oliver-Bruno never left sanctuary.

“On November 23, 2018 the [public] assembly that gathered to surround and support Samuel was a church service in which prayer, scripture, song and proclamation were centrally present. Moreover, Samuel’s supporters are deeply unsettled by the collusion between USCIS and ICE to utilize a supposedly legitimate immigration process as bait for entrapment and ambush,” the statement continued.

Thursday afternoon, Durham leaders are called for the release of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, who was arrested by immigration officials when he left sanctuary at a Durham church last Friday.

Oliver-Bruno was was held in Georgia until Thursday morning, when he was moved to an undisclosed location. He was deported Thursday evening.

Members of Durham City Council, county commissioners and Board of Education joined faith and community leaders at a news conference Thursday at City Hall in protest of Oliver-Bruno’s arrest and detainment.

“This is a city for all. We will fight and we will defend everyone,” said Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero.

Mayor Steve Schewel said the Durham leaders support Oliver-Bruno and his family and are unified in protest against the actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This is against everything we stand for in Durham,” Schewel said.

“Durham embraces all people,” he said, including all races, refugees, LGBT people and immigrants regardless of documented status.

CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham gave sanctuary to Oliver-Bruno, 47, for the past year after he was ordered to return to Mexico by ICE. He has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. He legally resided in the U.S. for at least 3 years, receiving stays of removals and a work permit until the winter of 2017.

On Nov. 23, Oliver-Bruno left the church in Durham for an appointment with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Morrisville. He was arrested shortly after entering the building.

CityWell’s pastor, the Rev. Cleve May, said Thursday that Oliver-Bruno was ambushed as he was trying to follow the process.

“These acts of collusion fundamentally undermine ... our ability as United States citizens to trust in the processes of our government,” May said. “ICE and USCIS must be held accountable for this.”

CityWell offered Oliver-Bruno a place to live in December when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement notified him the agency would no longer practice discretion on his deportation order.

Since he moved into the church, he had been working with the church and the Duke Law school on ways to remain in the country legally.

The arrest

A large crowd of faith-leaders and community members accompanied Oliver-Bruno to his appointment on Nov. 23 to support him, but also to be witnesses if he was arrested. Oliver-Bruno led the crowd in a prayer, before entering the building, with his son, Daniel Oliver Perez, 19, May and his legal team.

Those who remained outside, including reporters, saw Oliver-Bruno sit with his son to fill out paperwork through the glass doors. When they stood up to stand in a line, ICE officers dressed in civilian clothes arrested him. A scuffle between Oliver-Bruno, his son and the ICE officers erupted as the officers tried to escort Oliver-Bruno. The crowd outside began to scream.

When Oliver-Bruno was taken out a back door to a parked van, the crowd bolted to the back of the building. His supporters encircled the van for about two hours, shouting at the ICE officers, singing worship songs and praying. Morrisville Police gave the crowd multiple warnings to disperse and eventually arrested those still encircling the van.

ICE took Oliver-Bruno to the Wake County Detention Center to stay detained over the weekend. He was taken to Stewart Detention Center, an immigration jail in Lumpkin, Georgia, on Monday. Oliver-Bruno was no longer listed at that location late Thursday morning, based on an immigration database.

“This is not the way our country should be operating,” Durham County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said Thursday. “We call on the Department of Homeland Security to release Samuel.”

Oliver-Bruno’s arrest during the holiday weekend, and his supporters’ acts of protest, garnered national attention and outrage from U.S. Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield, who have since called on Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen to release him.

Caballero, the Durham City Council member, said that local elected officials can “leverage our voice of power” to call for Oliver-Bruno’s release. She said she is cynical about the timing of his appointment and arrest the morning after Thanksgiving, when many offices were closed. “I do think it was a strategic move,” she said.

“I think everyone is paying very close attention, and it scared everyone, and I think that was their intent,” Cabellero said.

“No matter who you are, we want you in Durham,” said Durham Mayor Steve Schewel at a press conference at City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in support of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, a Mexican immigrant who was in sanctuary in Durham and arrested by ICE on Nov. 23. Schewel was joined by Durham City Council members, County Commissioners, School Board members and faith and community leaders. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@newsobserver.com

Bryan Cox, spokesman for ICE, said the agency learned of Oliver-Bruno’s appointment from social media posts made by his supporters in the days leading to his appointment.

Oliver Perez said via phone during Thursday’s news conference that he had spoken to his dad by phone on Wednesday night, when Oliver-Bruno was still in the Lumpkin detention center.

“My dad is a good person, and everywhere he goes he spreads the word of God, which is what God wants,” Oliver Perez said.

Oliver-Bruno’s immigration history

Oliver-Bruno left Mexico in 1994 and moved to Greenville, N.C. His wife, Perez Pacheco, followed the next year with a work permit.

Oliver-Bruno and Perez Pacheco returned to Mexico in 2011 to be with Samuel Oliver-Bruno’s father, who had a severe medical condition. After Oliver-Bruno’s father passed away, Perez Pacheco returned to the U.S. in 2013 because of complications with lupus. Oliver-Bruno crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 to be with his wife, who was about to have open heart surgery.

RAL_Samuel_Vigil_02 (2)
Daniel Oliver-Perez stands in a group of supporters before the vigil being held for his father, Samuel Oliver-Bruno, on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Oliver-Bruno was arrested by ICE agents in Morrisville on Friday, Nov. 23 after leaving CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham where he was in sanctuary to attend a biometrics appointment requested by USCIS. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

He was arrested at the border in May 2014 because a Customs and Border Protection Officer suspected him of lying when he presented a Texas birth certificate of a man with another name, according to federal court documents. In a second interview with Border Patrol, Oliver-Bruno admitted he was from Mexico without legal documents to enter the U.S. Later that month, Oliver-Bruno pleaded guilty to attempting to enter the county illegally by false and misleading information.

At some point before 2014, Oliver-Bruno applied for a U.S. visa, but was denied, court documents said.

Oliver-Bruno remained in the country after he presented his wife’s medical records. Since 2014, Oliver-Bruno received a work permit and was able to obtain a driver’s license . The government granted him stays of removal in 2015 and 2016, but denied his application in 2017.

Sanctuary in North Carolina

Oliver-Bruno was not the only immigrant living in sanctuary place in the state. Since May, seven people have sought refuge in churches in Greensboro, Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill to avoid deportation. They are part of the growing national sanctuary movement across the country, led by faith-based communities.

Sanctuary in the U.S. dates as far back as the early 1800s, when the Underground Railroad protected slaves fleeing north. The modern sanctuary movement gained national attention since 2014 and is made up of more than a 1,000 churches nationwide, according to the Church World Service.

These churches provide immigrants a place to live and assist with their legal cases.

After Oliver-Bruno’s arrest, only four people remain in sanctuary in North Carolina: Juana Tobar Ortega at the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greensboro; Rosa Ortez-Cruz in Chapel Hill at the shared North Elliot Road church campus of the Church of Reconciliation and the Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship; Jose Chicas at the School for Conversion, which is on the property of St. John’s Baptist Church, in Durham; Eliseo Jimenez in Raleigh at Umstead Park United Church of Christ.

Two immigrants have successfully left sanctuary in the state.

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