Man Takes Sanctuary In Tempe Church To Avoid Deportation

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, September 5, 2014 - 9:04am
Updated: Friday, September 5, 2014 - 9:07am
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
Luis Lopez, in the blue and white shirt, is surrounded by church community members as they pray for him.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
The room Luis Lopez will be staying in while at the University Presbyterian Church in Tempe. The church offered him sanctuary as he faces deportation proceedings.

Dozens of community members and parishioners gathered at a Tempe church Thursday night. The group held a vigil in support of a man now living in the church — because he could be deported at any time.

University Presbyterian Church welcomed Luis Lopez into its community. The group offered the 24-year-old Guatemalan native sanctuary. Lopez is under deportation proceedings. He submitted an appeal for a stay of removal to continue living and working in the United States, but it was denied. Fearing he could be deported at any moment, he accepted the church’s offer of sanctuary.

During the one hour service church group leaders and members prayed for the married father of two children. Lopez was apprehended for what he described as a minor traffic incident several years ago. Since then he has been asking to stay. He says when he ran from Guatemalan gangs and crime nearly 10 years ago, he never imagined he’d ever be in this position.

In Spanish, Lopez said it is painfully sad to think of leaving his wife behind with their autistic 5-year-old son and infant daughter.

Rev. Eric Ledermann is the pastor of the University Presbyterian Church. He says the church has a room for Lopez to stay and someone will accompany him each night so he’s not alone. 

“We will do what we need to do for as long as we need to do it. And we will cross each week when it comes and each day when it comes. And we will do what we can to make this a hospitable for him," Ledermann said.

Ledermann said the church is also sending a message to the federal government — they’re against families being split apart by what he calls a broken immigration system.

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