AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s been a week since a Springfield resident facing deportation found sanctuary at an Amherst church.
Amherst’s First Congregational Church offered sanctuary to 35-year-old Lucio Perez, a married father of U.S. citizen children, on October 18, a day before his scheduled flight back to Guatemala. He is now living in the church, after ICE issued a warrant for his arrest.
Pastor Vicki Kemper told 22News Lucio Perez appreciates the protection of her church, and is adjusting to his new situation.
She said he has been able to see his family.
Thirthy-five-year-old Lucio Perez accepted sanctuary in the First Congregational Church in Amherst one week ago. Immigration officials had ordered Perez to return to Guatemala, a place he hasn’t called home for nearly 2 decades.
Since he’s considered an Immigration fugitive, he can’t leave the church grounds, out of fear of being arrested and deported.
“No one should have to live in a church,” said Pastor Kemper.
Despite not being fluent in English, Pastor Kemper told 22News Perez attended Sunday service and met the congregation and community members who are rallying behind him.
Perez is working with lawyers to help him win his deportation appeal, so he can stay in the country with his wife and four children; three who are legal citizens.
“Like on a higher level we are not showing a lot support to people who are from different areas and different backgrounds, but I think that on a smaller community level its really important to do that,” said Eva Fahey of Northampton.
Out of fear of Perez’s safety, Pastor Kemper only allowed us into the sanctuary. Kemper told 22News she does not want the public to know where Perez is living in the building.
Pastor Vicki Kemper said her congregation and the community have rallied behind Perez. A network of 11 faith-based organizations have signed up to provide meals for him. And someone is always at the church.
“He’s also making connections with a Spanish speaking church that meets here in our building 3 times a week,” said Pastor Kemper. “He is in the process of getting used to this place, we’re praying and working that it will be reopened.”
And if his case is not reopened, Pastor Kemper told 22News, his family will have to make some tough decisions.
Pastor Kemper told 22News, she contacted Immigration Customs Enforcement last week to inform them the church is providing sanctuary for Perez. She said she hasn’t heard back from ICE.