‘My faith has gotten stronger.’ Four months after ICE arrest, supporters speak out.

More than 50 people rallied Monday in support of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, a Durham father who was deported to Mexico after taking sanctuary in a church basement.

Supporters included 27 people who blocked a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement van during Oliver-Bruno’s arrest last fall. They called Monday for his return, for ICE to be abolished and for the Wake County district attorney to drop the charges against them.

After the rally, a judge moved their court dates to April.

“Samuel is my friend,” said Cleve May, a pastor at CityWell United Methodist Church, where Oliver-Bruno stayed. “Samuel is a part of my church family. I’ve come to love him and his family. I believe in a God that created every one of us. I believe in a God who delights in every one of us.”

Oliver-Bruno, 47, had been living in the basement of CityWell for 11 months while he petitioned to have his deportation to Mexico delayed. Churches are one of the few places where ICE does not make arrests.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asked Oliver-Bruno in November to appear in person to provide fingerprints, a necessary step for his petition. He was arrested when he left for the appointment and was deported from the United States about one week later.

“Our government used his compliance as a tool for entrapment,” May said Monday.

During the arrest, “27 persons with courage formed a fence asking for ICE to leave Samuel alone,” Maria Jimenez of Comité de Acción Popular said in Spanish during the rally Monday. “These 27 persons know that Samuel and his family did not deserve to be treated in this way.”

Before entering the Wake County Justice Center, the 27 defendants linked arms and read a list of principles, including their belief that ICE tactics are incompatible with human rights.

“Finally and emphatically, we call for ICE to be abolished,” said Durham advocate Manju Rajendran.

Oliver-Bruno’s 19-year-old son Daniel said his father suffers from diabetes and does not have medication in Mexico.

They are able to communicate mostly through FaceTime chats online.

“The officers who tore my family apart believe they have won,” said Daniel Oliver Perez. “But they have not. My faith has gotten stronger.”

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.