SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A western Massachusetts immigrant who was granted legal protection in the form of a Stay of Removal has his case reopened to seek permanent residency.

After arriving in the U.S. in 1999, the Guatemalan immigrant, Lucio Perez, 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 an Amherst church.

Perez took sanctuary at the First Congregational Church for four years. In March 2021, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) granted him legal protection in the form of a stay of deportation and was able to leave the church.

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 on Niz-Chavez vs. Garland case, which determined ICE did not comply with the Congressional order that notice must be issued for deportation. Notices that were being issued were not setting an exact date. Perez’s appeal was granted in April 2022 to reopen his case for cancelation of removal and allow him to seek permanent residency.

“I give thanks that my case is being reconsidered. I am so grateful to my family and the wider community for the support they have given throughout this time,” said Mr. Perez.  

Community members are contributing letters of support for Mr. Perez, detailing how they know him and find him to be a person of upstanding moral character. Former sanctuary volunteers and supporters can learn more and upload letters to https://bit.ly/Lucioletter.

“Lucio’s determination to keep his family together has resulted in this second opportunity for his case, but we know it will not be easy,” said Margaret Sawyer, working with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center on Lucio’s immigration case. “Community support will make all the difference.”

Perez discussed his options while in sanctuary with Representative Jim McGovern. “I’ve had the honor of visiting Lucio Perez in sanctuary on five occasions. He is an excellent father, an inspirational leader, and a truly good person,” said Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern. “Lucio has developed sincere ties with his neighbors, demonstrated an incredible commitment to local organizations, and given hope to so many with his extraordinary kindness and strong moral compass. I’ve seen firsthand his sense of service which has already made him an invaluable part of our community.”

According to a news release sent to 22News from Margaret Sawyer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, 14 congregations helped prepare meals, and volunteers drove his wife and family from Springfield to Amherst four times weekly. Being in sanctuary for four years, Perez held Spanish classes to more than 150 students and spoke to faith groups and college classes about his life as an immigrant in the U.S. 

“Lucio came to this country seeking safety and security more than half his lifetime ago, and everything he has done since then has been about supporting and staying with his family,” said Rev. Vicki Kemper, pastor of First Church Amherst UCC. “Lucio is a man of deep faith and strong morals who follows the rules and trusts in God to provide for him and his family.”

“We call on the Department of Homeland Security and everyone involved in this stage of Lucio’s long, expensive, and painful struggle to stay here to put an end to any and all efforts to deport him,” said Rev. Kemper.  “Grant him and his family the security they deserve, and watch how our community and our nation will benefit.”