ICE: Immigrant who left Canal Street church ‘sanctuary’ might still be deported

Jose Torres speaks with WGNO's Susan Roesgen on his first day outside a church sanctuary

NEW ORLEANS –  El Salvadoran immigrant Jose Torres strolled on the sidewalk in front of First Grace United Methodist Church on Tuesday for the first time in seven months.  Since last November the construction worker and immigrant rights leader had sought “sanctuary” in the church, unable to leave it under the threat of deportation.

Torres said it felt good to be “afuera” –outside– unafraid that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials might come to arrest him.

Torres and his supporters told the media that ICE officials in the regional office in New Orleans had agreed this week that Torres could stay in the city indefinitely, as long as he “checked in” with ICE once every thirty days.

But a response to WGNO’s request for a comment from ICE seems to imply that Torres could still be deported– as early as his next monthly check in.

In an email, Bryan Cox, Southern Region Communications Director for ICE, wrote that Torres “was given one month; it would be entirely speculative for any person to suggest what may happen beyond that time frame.”

Cox wrote that the decision to allow Torres to leave the church sanctuary, without facing immediate arrest, simply gives Torres “a month to seek any potential immigration relief that he may want to attempt to obtain.  His case will be re-evaluated in a month based on the totality of the circumstances, just as is done in all cases.”

How ICE will handle Torres’ case going forward is one uncertainty– finding housing for himself and his wife and their two, American-born daughters is another. With no income for the last seven months, Torres says they lost their home.

The ultimate irony is that although Torres is free to leave the church, he and his family will be living there until they can raise the funds to get a home of their own.