CLEVELAND - An undocumented immigrant who has been living in the United States for the last 17 years is now finding refuge within the walls of a Cleveland church.
Members of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Tremont voted to become a sanctuary church.
The church's first resident is Eulogio Hernandez Box. He is facing deportation back to Guatemala.
Box is married and the father of four young boys, all of whom are under the age of 11 and were born in America and are U.S. citizens.
When asked why it was important to stay in America and not return to Guatemala, Box replied through a translator, saying “For my four kids. They need the love of a father.”
“I want people to understand me, I don’t want my children to suffer,” he said.
Box came to the U.S. at age 15 and has worked and paid taxes ever since, according to church officials. He has no criminal record but was reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after a traffic stop.
“When you hear someone’s story, you recognize that they have hopes and dreams and families and love and bring gifts to our country. I believe there is strength in our diversity,” said pastor Kelly Burd.
The church was built in 1893 and built to take in an influx of immigrants in Tremont at the time, Burd said. More than a century later they hope to act as a sanctuary once again.
“In previous years, someone like Eulogio would be able to apply for and be granted a Stay of Deportation, or get his case administratively closed since he is not considered a threat to public safety or national security,” Burd said. “But with new executive orders under the current administration these options are no longer available, the Stays are given blanket denials, and another family is tragically separated.”
As part of its Sanctuary Church commitment, Pilgrim Church will host a community-wide forum on immigration on May 2 at 7 p.m.
Pilgrim Church is now the third “sanctuary church” in Northeast Ohio that is protecting undocumented immigrants by allowing them to live within the church walls.
Last September, Forest Hills Presbyterian in Cleveland Heights became the first — and Leonor Garcia, despite being denied a stay of deportation, is still living there with no visits from ICE.
The other church is St. Andrew Episcopal in Mentor. They took in an immigrant in October who still lives there.
An ICE spokesperson sent News 5 the following statement:
Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances. The locations specified in the guidance include schools, places of worship, and hospitals.