Dozens of church members face deportation

Members of Pullen Memorial Church in Raleigh

June 17, 2011 4:43:11 AM PDT
More than two members of Pullen Memorial Church in Raleigh are facing deportation after a traffic stop last year in Louisiana.

Supporters say the group's members were targeted because of their race, rather than reasonable suspicion so they're filing a federal lawsuit.

"With all of us as human beings, [we] cannot stay quiet when abuses happen in our community," protestor Jorge Hernandez Calderon said.

Calder was one of many protestors who attended a vigil at the Hillsborough Street church Thursday evening.

Supporters met inside Pullen Memorial to pray and raise awareness over what he says is an injustice he and 43 others like Jeremias Villar experienced last year.

"I didn't know that being Latino means you're suspicious," Villar said.

The church group was headed back to North Carolina from a church gathering in Texas when the border patrol pulled them over in Louisiana.

"Border patrol in general has authority to board vehicles on reason of suspicion to search for unlawful stuff within 100 miles of the border, but this, 500 miles away from the border," said Elizabeth Simpson, Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Sampson is the attorney representing 22 of the passengers. She says six were deported immediately but everyone was denied access to lawyers and translation services. The church members say they also were threatened and ridiculed for their religious beliefs.

"We could see that some of the officials were discreetly laughing," Villar recalled. "They were happy because they had detained many of us."

Simpson declined to say if the group was comprised of illegal immigrants and said they would plead the Fifth Amendment in court. She says it's a moot point and that this case is more about treating people with dignity.

"There's one way to do your job, and then there's another way to sort of abuse people, make fun of people and coerce people and that's probably not necessary," Simpson continued.

The federal government has opposed the motion to throw out the case. The next court date is September 22 at the Charlotte Immigration Court. The border protection officials in Louisiana, where the case originated, declined comment.

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