Samuel Oliver-Bruno, an undocumented 20-year resident of North Carolina who had been living in a Durham church for 11 months, was arrested alongside faith leaders and supporters at an appointment with immigration officials to discuss a petition to delay his deportation, according to CNN.
Oliver-Bruno was told the meeting was to provide fingerprints and discuss the petition at the offices of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). About 20 minutes into the appointment, Oliver-Bruno was arrested by plainclothes officers. For two hours, dozens of the supporters who had accompanied him surrounded the van set to take him to detention. They were arrested as well, CNN reports:
Faith leaders and church members quickly formed a human wall around the vehicle taking him to detention, and would not leave. They locked arms around the agents’ unmarked gold-colored van and prayed for about two hours. They sang “Amazing Grace” and other worship songs. “Let him stay!” they yelled. “Let your people go!”
Oliver-Bruno, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico but had lived in the states for over twenty years, moved into the CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham, North Carolina 11 months ago to avoid deportation, since traditionally, ICE doesn’t make arrests in “sensitive locations.” However, according to Pastor Cleve May, Oliver-Bruno was baited out of the sanctuary church:
“It was presented as a legitimate appointment but ICE utilized due process as bait,” May said. “So we went to the appointment with him, to offer protection, knowing that ICE could not be trusted. We were thinking we would be in and out in 30 minutes.”
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox is calling the move “targeted enforcement action.”
“Mr. Oliver-Bruno is a convicted criminal who has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, has no outstanding appeals, and has no legal basis to remain in the US,” Cox said.
In 2014, Oliver-Bruno was arrested in El Paso, Texas for using a forged birth certificate to enter the US. As the case moved through the appeals process, Oliver-Bruno left his son and wife, who has lupus, for the safety of the Methodist church, where he played guitar and read for services. He continued studying at Duke University’s Divinity School after classmates agreed to move lessons to the church.
North Carolina Congressmen David Price and G.K. Butterfield are “extremely alarmed” by the coordinated efforts of ICE and USCIS to lure Oliver-Bruno out of the church and into an arrest.
“At best, Mr. Oliver-Bruno was presented with a catch-22 dilemma; at worst, he was entrapped,” their joint statement said.
Oliver-Bruno will remain in detention until his case is adjudicated.