Tempe church provides sanctuary for undocumented immigrant

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- The Sanctuary Movement is back in Arizona.

For the third time this summer, an undocumented immigrant is taking sanctuary in a church in an attempt to avoid deportation. This time it is happening in Tempe at University Presbyterian Church.

The congregation has decided to help 24-year-old Luis Lopez, who came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor from Guatemala when he was 16.

He says he has been applying for asylum since arriving and was given a work permit, but just recently a judge denied his request for asylum and told him to leave.

He is married to a legal resident and is a father figure to her two children.

Rather than live in daily fear that immigration officials will come to their home and deport him, Lopez has decided to move into a small office space off the church's sanctuary in hopes that ICE officials will not come onto church grounds to deport him.

When asked what it is like to live away from his family, he says through a translator, "I feel a little sad but, at the same time, I know that I run less risk being here than being at home, so I feel safer."

Being at the church does not give Lopez any legal protection, but in past sanctuary cases, immigration officials have not only let the person in question stay at the church but have actually worked out a stay of deportation for the individual.

The church pastor, the Rev. Eric Lederman, says they are prepared to allow Lopez to stay at the church for as long as it takes.

"Tonight we have blowup mattress, and in a couple days we will have real beds," Lederman said. "We're hoping that it won't last that long, and we're hoping ICE will change their mind with regards to his deportation and give him a stay."

Lederman says he is helping Lopez fight deportation because the immigrant fits ICE's own guidelines for leniency. He came here as a child, he has no criminal background, his wife is a legal resident, and he supports her children.

When asked what he thinks about the people who say he is helping Lopez break the law, Lederman responds, "Scriptures tell us that we are to love our neighbor. He did break a civil law, but he is not a criminal. We are not breaking any laws by keeping him here. We are not harboring fugitive. We are well within our rights to do this."

Lopez says he is prepared to hole up at the church for as along as it takes.

He says, "Because I have my family here ... I want to be able to stay here in the U.S."

Lederman adds that he is trying to send a message to President Obama and Congress "that the madness must stop, that we need to stop breaking up families."