A Los Angeles pastor living in the US for more than 20 years and no apparent criminal history was detained by immigration officials Monday, sparking protests and rekindling fears that anyone without documentation now faces deportation.
The 42-year-old pastor, Noe Carias, is married to a US citizen and has two young US-born children, attorney Noemi Ramirez told the Los Angeles Times. The native Guatemalan was reportedly first deported in 1993 after crossing illegally into the US as a teenager. He then returned and ignored a second deportation order in 1995.
That removal order had been recently stayed under the Obama administration, which did not consider undocumented immigrants like Carias to be a priority for deportation. But that changed during a check-in with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.
"We got up at around 6 in the morning and we got ready with the kids and we were on our way here, and we were becoming really hopeful that everything was going to be fine, and unfortunately it wasn’t like that," his wife, Victoria Carias, told reporters outside. "They detained my husband today. It’s a really sad day for us today."
Carias' attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment so it was unclear why his immigration status had been unresolved for so many years. Victoria Carias told the Los Angeles Times her husband has been "a good citizen" whose only crime was entering the country illegally all those years ago.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, however, ICE said Carias is a repeat immigration violator "who has assumed multiple identities and nationalities over the years in order to evade federal immigration enforcement."
After being removed from the US on at least three occasions, ICE said Carias was granted one-year stays in 2015 and 2016 , but a third stay was denied in May and he was taken into custody on Monday pending deportation.
That decision would be in line with the Trump administration's new executive orders that make practically all undocumented immigrants, regardless of their record, a priority for deportation.
ICE's decision to detain Noe Carias has sparked an outpouring of support from other evangelical pastors and churches from Southern California, some of which have helped organize protests at the Los Angeles US Citizenship and Immigration Services building Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
A Gofundme page for Carias is also trying to raise $10,000 for legal fees.
The case has also further stoked fears that anyone without documents, even a longtime pastor with a family who are US citizens, is at high risk of being deported.
President Trump has also been promising a crackdown on immigration and has applauded ICE for increasing the number of deportations. In May, ICE announced more than 41,000 undocumented immigrants were deported during Trump's first 100 days in office, a 38% increase compared to same period the year before.
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan also testified before Congress in June that all undocumented immigrants "should be uncomfortable" and "looking over (their) shoulder."