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Man Facing Deportation Is Given Sanctuary In Amherst Church


     A church in Amherst has become the first in western Massachusetts to shelter someone facing imminent deportation.

    A crowd of 150 people rallied in front of the First Congregational Church on Main Street in downtown Amherst Thursday after it was announced the church was providing sanctuary to a man facing deportation to Guatemala.

    Lucio Perez, 38, was ordered by federal immigration authorities to purchase an airline ticket and board a plane Thursday to fly to the country he fled more than 20 years ago, but instead the undocumented immigrant took refuge in the church Wednesday night.

    Rev. Vicki Kemper said Perez is welcome to stay as long as he likes.

   "This is not an action we take lightly," said Kemper. " At the same time it is an action we feel we must take."

    According to Perez’s supporters, his case is before the Board of Immigration Appeals where a resolution could take months.

    A meeting room in the church has been outfitted as a living area for Perez with a bed, a microwave and a small refrigerator.

  " People are staying in this building 24-7, and we are coordinating food donations and there are people in the church providing hands on support to Lucio and his family and there are many others in the church who are praying for us all." said Kemper.

    Kemper said the congregation of the church at a hastily called meeting in mid-September decided to offer sanctuary to someone facing immediate removal from the country.

    " I was stunned, humbled and amazed by the open hearts of people in this congregation," said Kemper. "I have not heard anyone say we should not be doing this."

    Perez, speaking through an interpreter, thanked the church for opening its doors to him.  He complained his deportation is unfair.

  " I am not a criminal," declared Lucio.

   The father of three children, who are all U.S. citizens, worked as a landscaper in Springfield and has no criminal record, but he came onto the radar of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2009 after an incident with police in West Hartford.

   Under the Obama administration, Perez’s deportation proceedings were put on hold, so long as he checked in annually with immigration officials.  Last month, Perez was ordered to leave the country by October 19th.  His appeal for a stay of the deportation was turned down.

   Perez’s case has been championed by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and other immigration-rights activists.  Margaret Sawyer of the PVWC called Perez a “decent person.”

   Earlier in the week, more than 100 people marched outside the Springfield offices of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protest Perez’s deportation.  Police arrested 18 people when they blocked the doors to the office building and refused to move.



Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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