Eliseo Jimenez soon plans to leave sanctuary of North Carolina church

Three men, fathers with young children, were welcomed into sanctuary by United Church of Christ congregations in October 2017, over the course of 11 days. In the last month, all three have finally found a way to be free.

Eliseo Jimenez, the first of those immigrants to take sanctuary — on Oct. 10, at Umstead Park UCC in Raleigh, N.C. — is the last one to get word from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he is no longer threatened with deportation. 

The Rev. Doug Long, pastor of Umstead Park, said that Jimenez’ attorney was unable to share details. But Nardine Guirguis, of Guirguis Law in Raleigh, did tell the pastor she received assurances from ICE in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, March 23, that the agency will not enforce the deportation order.

Living in church with children

 “It is abundantly clear that Eliseo, an upstanding individual with no criminal history, is patently considered NOT to be a priority whatsoever,” the law firm noted.

Eliseo Jimenez (right) with children Christopher and Allison

Jimenez, a father of four, came to sanctuary in Umstead Park from the Greensboro area. He has two grown children, along with a younger son and daughter with wife Gabriella. Allison, 8, and Christopher, 7, have been living with Jimenez in the church since the beginning of the pandemic. He’s been taking care of them and supervising their schooling while their mother works in Greensboro, 70 miles west.

Long said Jimenez’ attorney will continue to pursue his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Once there is a resolution and he is issued a work permit that gives him driving privileges, Jimenez and his children will leave the church that has served as their home.  

U.S. policy changes

“The primary message I want to get out is thanks to the Biden administration,” said Long. “We are finally coming around to some sense of common humanity. I am more concerned now about helping Eliseo make as smooth a transition as possible.”

Eliseo Jimenez

One of Joe Biden’s first acts as president was to promise sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system. His administration outlined the details of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 as soon as he was inaugurated. The president has already signed several executive orders aimed at reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Biden also revised ICE enforcement priorities. Unless a non-citizen is a national security threat, a recent border crosser or a felon, ICE needs permission to act.

‘Better decisions’

“I will say that with the new administration more ICE officials feel less pressure,” Jimenez said. “They are starting to make better decisions with their hearts, mind and humanitarian perception. They are imagining what it’s like to be in my position.

“That’s the same I want to do now with my kids.”

In February, the White House’s immigration reform bill that outlines an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of immigrants already in the U.S. was introduced in the House and the Senate. Another bill to recognize migrants brought to the U.S. as children, the Dream and Promise Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 18 and now moves to the Senate.

Latest UCC release

This shift in immigration policies has changed the lives of a number of undocumented people, and the mission of a few UCC churches.

On Feb. 10, Saheeda Nadeem was granted her freedom after almost three years in sanctuary at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Kalamazoo, Mich. “Auntie Saheeda,” as she was known by her church community, faced deportation to Pakistan, a country in which she hasn’t lived for almost 40 years.

On Feb.24, after 1,252 days, Alex Garcia left the sanctuary of Christ Church, UCC, in Maplewood, Mo. The father of five U.S. citizens faced deportation to Honduras until ICE “equivocally stated it will not be pursuing Alex’s detention or removal.”

Over two weeks later, on March 13, Lucio Perez walked free out the front door of First Congregational Church UCC, Amherst, Mass. The native of Guatemala and father of four was able to return home to his family in Springfield, after 3 1/2 years, legally protected by a stay of deportation. 

Journey from Mexico

Then there’s Eliseo Jimenez. He’s lived in the United States since he was 17. Fearing for his safety, he came to North Carolina to escape an abusive father in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. 

Umstead Park UCC, Raleigh, N.C.

Jimenez came to the attention of ICE in 2007, when county deputies in North Carolina arrested him while doing immigration checks. Jimenez was deported, but several weeks later made his way back to the U.S. and his two then young, now grown, children.

When Umstead Park voted to become his place of refuge, Jimenez became the fourth undocumented immigrant to enter sanctuary in North Carolina.

Projects while in sanctuary

He’s since become a valued member of the church. A laborer and contractor by trade, Jimenez has taken on projects around the building to keep busy. 

Jimenez built birdhouses to raise funds for his family’s support.

To help raise funds to support his family, Jimenez fashioned a number of elaborate bird sanctuaries. Before that, the pastor said, he’d never made a birdhouse before. 

“Eliseo is a good carpenter,” Long said. “I don’t think there’s much he can’t do. He just finished a chest of drawers for his son. He’s never done that before. Eliseo is exceptionally mechanical. He’ll thrive once he gets out.”

Now all he needs is a work permit.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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