Refugee, activist leaves Mid-City church after months in sanctuary

Refugee/ activist leaves church after months of staying inside

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - "I spent eight months in sanctuary," said Jose Torres.

Torres walked out of Grace United Methodist Church in Mid-City celebrating with interpreter Rachel Taber by his side.

"I'm free. I can go get a hamburger at McDonald's or whatever restaurant I want without fear of being apprehended now," he said, smiling.

The church was a safe haven in November, when ICE ordered him to self-deport within a month or be forced out of the country. He decided to take sanctuary in the church as a last option to stay with his family.

Torres says he came to the U.S. in 2005, fleeing death threats in El Salvador. He spent more than a decade working and had two daughters born in the U.S.

The New Orleans Worker's Center for Racial Justice says Torres had received a stay of deportation from ICE in 2016. That changed as the Trump administration focused on more deportations.

He says he's not angry. Anger is a strong word.

"We might have outrage, but we should put it to good," he said.

His protest behind the church walls got ICE's attention. Immigration and customs enforcement abandoned the ultimatum of leave or be forced out, and accepted that Torres just check in with them every month.

He has followed the news of families separated at the border. He says people are fighting for families to remain together, but at the same time, he does not want families together in prisons. His girls, ages 9 and 3, are with him frequently, but he has no home to take them to. He works doing odd jobs at the church.

"This is my house for the moment," he said of the church. "I have to start from scratch all over again."

He says despite it all, he still loves the United States and New Orleans. He said now he can go to the park with his daughter without living in terror of being deported.

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