Supporters of Nelson Pinos, an Ecuadorian immigrant who first sought sanctuary from a federal deportation order in a New Haven church in 2017, are celebrating his temporary reprieve.
The father of three, who has lived in the U.S. for 29 years, learned this week that immigration authorities have granted him a one-year stay and supporters said Saturday he has left the church for now.
At the celebration Saturday, supporters of Pinos, 47, vowed to make sure he gets to remain here permanently, noting the fight for his freedom and the freedom of other immigrants without legal status is far from over.
“Today, we are not only celebrating a temporary stay, but we’re sending a loud message about a broken process,” said Miguel Castro, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus. “This is the time to fix it and fix it good so families like Nelson and his wife and his children and many like him will never, ever go through something like this ever again.”
Organizers of Saturday’s event said Pinos is the last of the sanctuary seekers in Connecticut to be given a stay of deportation.
Pinos could not attend Saturday’s celebration because he was quarantining after being exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. But he thanked the crowd by cell phone. Many who turned out have supported Pinos and his family over the years at various protests and actions. In 2018, dozens of demonstrators blocked the entrance to a federal court building with some chaining themselves to one another or to barrels filled with sand to draw attention to his case.
Pinos said he was grateful for their help and was “very happy” to have met them.
“I just want to say that this is not an end, and we still have a long way to go. And we hope that at the end, it’s going to be the best for me,” he said, receiving loud cheers from the crowd.
Pinos was 19 years old when he was arrested in Minneapolis in the 1990s and first ordered deported from the U.S. One of his lawyers, however, said Pinos was not aware of the order until 2012.
Pinos eventually moved to New Haven, bought a home, paid income taxes for at least 18 years and worked as a machine setup operator for the same factory for 15 years. He regularly reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who told him he was not a priority for deportation, according to his supporters.
ICE has said previously that a federal immigration judge issued Pinos a final order of removal in 2015. But ICE did not take him into custody at that time and instead allowed him to periodically report to an ICE office after previously providing proof that he intended to comply with the order, according to an earlier statement from the agency.
But in October 2017, ICE fitted Pinos with an ankle monitor and told him he had to leave the U.S., prompting him to seek refuge in the church. He was then declared an immigration fugitive. Seeking sanctuary at a site categorized by ICE as a sensitive location may delay “but does not void” ICE’s authority to enforce a removal order, the agency said at the time.
But this week, acting on an appeal filed in late June from Pinos’s lawyers, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, granted the stay of deportation, giving his attorneys time to work on another motion to reopen his case. Pinos’ lawyers have credited the action to a shift in policy under Democratic President Joe Biden.
In a statement, a spokesperson for ICE said Friday, “After a thorough review of Pinos’s case, it was determined that a stay of removal was warranted and therefore granted. All stays of removal are at the discretion of the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office Director on a case-by-case basis.”
Glenn Formica, a lawyer for Pinos, said in order to win the right to stay in the U.S. permanently, his client now needs Congress to change a 1996 law. Under the law, Pinos would have to return to his native Ecuador for 10 years before he can return and get a permanent resident card or green card.
“So finishing this race with Nelson, we need to be mindful that the next race for Nelson is a marathon, but it’s a marathon we’re all going to finish,” Formica said. “It’s been 20 years since there’s been comprehensive immigration reform. We’re not waiting a decade. We’re not waiting another 20 years.”