Alma Mendoza, Arts Paper, August 4
Nelson Pinos survived nearly four years in sanctuary at a church in downtown New Haven. Multiple Christmases, birthdays, sanctuary concerts, legal battles and grassroots actions later, he is fighting to stay in this country from his own home, surrounded by members of his family.
On Saturday afternoon [July 31, 2021], city officials, organizers, legal advocates, members of Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), Connecticut Shoreline Invisible, First & Summer-field United Methodist Church and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal gathered outside the church to celebrate Pinos’ one-year stay of deportation. Pinos, an Ecuadorian immigrant and father of three who had planned to speak in person, attended via phone after learning he had been exposed to Covid-19 on Friday.
“I wanted to thank everybody that was there since day one,” he said on speakerphone. “It was a hard time but it was also a joy to meet all of you, to have [you] with me through these almost four years.”
Pinos first took refuge in First & Summerfield in November 2017 after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials issued deportation orders. At the time, he had been living in the United States since 1992 and working in a factory for 15 years. Restricted to the church, he slept each night in the same small bedroom on the building’s second floor. In 2019, he began spending time between home and the church, fearing that he would never get a stay. His children, particularly his daughters, have been vocal about the trauma that they and their younger brother have experienced during that time.
Pinos’ attorney, Glenn Formica, described the battle to keep Pinos in the U.S. as “a relay race,” in which he picked up a legal baton that grassroots organizers and lawyers Tina Colón Williams and Yazmin Rodriguez carried bravely for years. He reminded attendees that Pinos’ case is not over—the year-long stay is part of a longer battle for permanent residency. He pointed to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which passed under President Bill Clinton. The law, which he lambasted as antiquated and overdue for change, states that undocumented immigrants must return to their home countries for 10 years if they want to be considered for citizenship. “That’s a decade,” Formica said. “Nelson would return to New Haven, to his family, when he was 57 years old. That’s why Nelson found his way to this church. He didn’t have a decade to give away.”
Pinos also thanked organizers, congregants, and faith leaders for continuing to fight for him. When First & Summer-field first heard about his case three and a half years ago, members voted to take him in. One year became two, which became over three… He said the time in the church has been a nightmare for himself and his family.
Now with a year of freedom, he said he feels a sense of calm by going back home to his family. Over the phone, he expressed his love and appreciation towards all those who attended and activists who organized and fought so hard for his freedom. Though he was successfully granted a year, he added, the battle isn’t over yet.