NEW ORLEANS -- A construction worker from El Salvador who fears being deported to his violent home county said Wednesday he will seek sanctuary in a Mid-City church.
Jose Torres, 31, was supposed to appear at a check-in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Instead, he said, he plans to live inside First Grace United Methodist Church in Mid-City indefinitely to avoid being separated from his daughters, who are 2 and 8, and his wife who are United States citizens.
Torres said he entered the country illegally by swimming across the Rio Grande into Texas in 2005. He moved to the New Orleans area shortly after Hurricane Katrina and has lived here since.
"I have worked and sweated in this city, shoulder to shoulder with my brother and sister immigrants to rebuild New Orleans," Torres said.
Torres said that he has made a life in the city with his wife and daughters and says the place he helped to rebuild is set to tear his family apart, despite the fact he is a human trafficking survivor.
“My two daughters, they’re my life. I feel oppressed as a dad. I feel awful. That’s why I’m taking this decision,” Torres said. “No father wants to be separated from his children.”
"For me as the father of a family, it does just rip my heart apart to see none of this matters to ICE they want to rip my life apart, destroy my life with my family," he said.
Torres' community is ready to fight for him. His church is offering salvation and his neighbors are offering their support.
"I was there the whole time wiping tears away from my face, as so many others did, because we realize Jose is us," Mid-City resident Tracy Bender said.
Torres is currently fighting for court date before a judge. Until then he will be seeking refuge in the church.
Pastor Shawn Anglim said in the past, churches were a safe place away from ICE, however he said that is not the case now.
"With this current administration, they have gone into hospitals, they have gone into schools, they wait outside churches," Anglim said.
Immigration rights advocates say deportations in New Orleans are up 380 percent this year. They say the end result is children being separated from parents and spouses separated from their loved ones.
"It makes me ashamed. How do we do this to families? How?" Bender said.
Eyewitness News reached out to ICE and a spokesman left the following statement:
"While the United States welcomes lawful immigrants and visitors, our borders are not open to illegal migration. The ICE sensitive locations policy, which remains in effect, provides that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided."
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