Immigrant supported by church deported

The Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg prays with Luis Blanco in front of the Tampa immigration office on January 30, 2018. Blanco was deported to Mexico on Feb. 8. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Andy Oliver.
The Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg prays with Luis Blanco in front of the Tampa immigration office on January 30, 2018. Blanco was deported to Mexico on Feb. 8.

Luis Blanco was deported to a border town in Mexico, despite the efforts of Allendale United Methodist Church and others to support the Plant City, Florida, resident and his family as they sought an extension to allow him to stay in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons.

The Tampa office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a statement on Feb. 9 and notified the family of Blanco, 41, that he was removed to Mexico.

The Rev. Andy Oliver, pastor of the St. Petersburg, Florida, church, said Blanco’s lawyers and family were notified of his deportation on Feb. 8. Oliver and his church have been supporting Blanco and his family as part of a network that include several religious and civil organizations like Florida Immigration Coalition. Oliver said Blanco was apparently dropped off in Reynosa, Mexico, about 600 miles from his hometown of Veracruz.

Oliver said the family is traumatized. “We have contacted counselors and a therapist for the family. They have lost their father, their husband,” Oliver said.

Blanco has six children, his wife is pregnant, and all his family have legal status, Oliver said.

“The family will remain here. The children are in school, and the oldest daughter, 19, is going to try to get a job,” Oliver said. He said supporters are helping her to find a well-paid job and trying to find something that will help her to continue her education.

The Allendale church set up an account for them and “together with the community will pay the family's rent every month moving forward,” Oliver said.

Blanco crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without documentation about 20 years ago. “He has been working in agriculture, picking the food that we have in our tables, building our houses and paying taxes to a system where he gets (no) benefits,” the pastor said.

Blanco’s wife, Lourdes Medrano, is enrolled in the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), The Tampa Bay Times reported on Jan. 30. She was born in Mexico.

Blanco was deported the first time in 1998. He returned and remained without any legal problems until 2014, when he had a traffic offense in North Carolina.

After that incident, he was allowed to stay in the U.S. as the sole financial supporter of his family, under a humanitarian permission that had to be renewed every year. Last December, ICE denied Blanco the possibility of renewal.

The Rev. Andy Oliver, left, attends a rally for immigrants held outside the Hillsborough County Sheriff Office in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 9 following the deportation of Luis Blanco to Mexico. The rally was attended by activists and religious leaders. Photo by Kimberly DeFalco.

The Rev. Andy Oliver, left, attends a rally for immigrants held outside the Hillsborough County Sheriff Office in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 9 following the deportation of Luis Blanco to Mexico. The rally was attended by activists and religious leaders. Photo by Kimberly DeFalco.

 

According to ICE, Blanco came to the attention of ICE after his arrest and he was picked up by ICE enforcement officers on Jan. 30, 2018.

“U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes seriously its obligation to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, and the enforcement actions ICE employs are intended to accomplish this fairly and efficiently,” the statement said.

The statement said ICE forces enforcement on those who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, but added that “as acting ICE Director Thomas Homan made clear, ICE will not exempt classes or categories of aliens not lawfully present in the Unites States from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of U.S. immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and removal.”

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times before he was deported, Blanco told the newspaper he had never caused any problems in the United States and spent his days happily working or with his family.

“I have God in my heart, and he guides me and gives me strength,” he told the newspaper.

Plant City, where Blanco has lived for 20 years, is 30 miles from the Allendale church, Oliver said. “He has been an important part of the community of Plant City,” Oliver said.

Oliver prayed with Blanco as he arrived at ICE offices in Tampa on Jan. 30. Blanco was then sent to Krome Detention Center in Miami to await resolution of his deportation case.

Allendale United Methodist Church hosted a rally the evening of Jan. 30, attended by more than 200 people from the community, including church members and some 20 clergy leaders from the area representing Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.

The actions are part of the congregation’s new approach to community organizing over the past two years, he explained. Part of the organizing work focuses on connecting the Latino and Muslim communities, he added.

One concern, Oliver said, is that ICE recently entered into working agreements with 17 Florida sheriffs, which he believes is a step toward a national model.

“SEIU (Service Employees International Union) has been fighting against it because it is unconstitutional to have people detained by the sheriff and put in the jail without cause,” he explained. “In addition, it helps to promote the racial profiling.”

In the two years that Oliver has been pastor at Allendale, the predominantly white congregation has worked hard at being welcoming to all, including immigrants and people who are undocumented. “We took very seriously to be a reconciling church, not just to receive LGBTQ people in to our church but to serve all of those who are oppressed anywhere,” he said.

Oliver said a growing number of churches in the area are interested in supporting families that are suffering because of the threat of deportation.

“Last week, my church decided unanimously in a council meeting to offer sanctuary in the future for people at risk of being deported. We will be preparing a room for somebody who will need to stay in the future.”

Vasquez is the director of the UMNS Hispanic News Desk. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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