AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Lucio Perez’s sanctuary has come to an end.
After arriving in the U.S. in 1999, the Guatemalan Immigrant moved to Springfield in 2008 with his children that had U.S. citizenship. But in 2017, they were forced to separate, and to avoid deportation, he relocated to this Amherst church
Lucio took sanctuary at the First Congregational Church back in October of 2017, so this means for the first time in 4 years Lucio will be able to walk as a free man in the U.S. That’s because ICE granted him legal protection in the form of a stay of deportation, something that was denied in 2017 under the Trump administration. He and his family were appreciative of all the support from the community since his first day in Amherst.
“We just love everyone here, and I’m just happy to say, my dad is coming home,” said Lucio’s son.
Lucio Perez said (speaking in spanish), “I wish I could come out there and hug every single one of you because you will always be part of my family.”
Pastor Rev. Vicki Kemper helped provide a safe and comfortable place for Lucio to stay. She said Lucio’s story was one of resiliency and perseverance.
“We learned of something what it is to accompany someone through a horrible, horrible time, and we learned from Lucio what it means to never give up,” said Rev. Kemper.
But there is still work to be done to keep Lucio off ICE’s radar in the future.
“Its not over right, we have more to do,” said Congressman Jim McGovern. “I have introduced private bills to provide a way to have his status regularized so we don’t have to worry about this anymore.”
As for what’s next for Lucio, he plans to ask for permanent residency, and as a man of faith, Lucio trusts in God to get him there.
“Thats what we are doing outside of this church, we are just going to keep on fighting, “said Perez. “For God, there is nothing impossible.”
Saturday, March 13 marked the end of a nearly four-year sanctuary for Lucio Perez at the First Congregational Church of Amherst.
A news conference was held Saturday at the church with Perez, family members, Congressman Jim McGovern, among others at the church.
The Guatemalan immigrant took refuge at the First Congregational Church in Amherst in October of 2017, but now will be reuniting with his family.
Perez will leave the church Saturday, March 13 with legal protection in the form of a stay of deportation granted on March 5th by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Perez was unable to leave the church for fear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, will deport him back to Guatemala, a country he left 20 years ago.
Churches are deemed “sensitive locations” by ICE, and they seldom make arrests there. First Congregational has become Perez’s home and the one place where he can be sure he won’t be deported away from his wife, Dora, and their four kids in Springfield.
Perez arrived in the U.S. at age 17 in 1999 and moved to Springfield in 2008. In 2009 ICE began proceedings against Perez.
In 2017, Perez was denied by the Trump administration after being granted a stay of deportation each year under the Obama administration.
In his time in sanctuary and at the church Lucio began teaching English classes and building connections with the over 1,000 church members volunteers and neighbors who have always advocated for his freedom.