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In Obama’s Backyard, Father of 5 US-born Kids Seeks Sanctuary in Chicago Church to Avoid Deportation

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The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is reportedly preparing to launch a month-long campaign of raids specifically aimed at rounding up and deporting undocumented Central American mothers and children. This follows a similar campaign of raids against parents and children in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina earlier this year. While the raids have spread fear across neighborhoods, they’ve also inspired increased community organizing to stop deportations—including in President Obama’s very own neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago. As Obama nears the end of his eight years in office, he’s facing a unique legacy: the president to deport more people than any other in U.S. history. But less than a mile from his and Michelle’s Chicago home, one undocumented father has decided to fight his deportation to Mexico by seeking sanctuary in a church. Jose Juan Federico Moreno has been living inside University Church now for more than a month. He has lived in the United States for 16 years and is the father of five U.S.-born children. He faces deportation because he was arrested seven years ago for driving under the influence. While we were in Chicago earlier this week, Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke went over to University Church to speak to Jose Juan and his supporters, and asked what the impact would be of his deportation. “It would be a psychological trauma for my children and my wife, who are visiting me very often,” says Federico Moreno.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from Madison, Wisconsin, today, headed to Toronto, Canada, for the next two nights, and then we will be back in New York in Troy upstate.

But we’re talking now about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE. It’s reportedly preparing to launch a month-long campaign of raids specifically aimed at rounding up and deporting undocumented Central American mothers and children. This follows a similar campaign of raids against parents and children in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina earlier this year.

While the raids have spread fear across neighborhoods, they’ve also inspired increased community organizing to stop deportations, including in President Obama’s very own neighborhood of Hyde Park in Chicago. As Obama nears the end of his eight years in office, he’s facing a unique legacy: the president who deported more people than any other president in U.S. history.

But less than a mile from his Chicago home, one undocumented father has decided to fight his deportation to Mexico by seeking sanctuary in a church. Jose Juan Federico Moreno has been living inside University Church now for more than a month. He’s lived in the U.S. for 16 years and is the father of five U.S.-born children. He faces deportation because he was arrested seven years ago for driving under the influence. While we were in Chicago earlier this week, Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke went over to University Church to speak with Jose Juan and his supporters.

REYNA WENCES: My name is Reyna Wences. I’m an organizer with Organized Communities Against Deportations. We’re a Chicago-based organization that supports people, families and individuals, that are in deportation proceedings and that are fighting their cases. Right here behind me is University Church, which has become the home of Jose Juan Federico Moreno, who is a father of five U.S. citizen children, who declared sanctuary on April 15th after he decided that he will not leave the country as ICE had been forcing him to do.

MIKE BURKE: And what does it mean that he has sought sanctuary inside this church?

REYNA WENCES: What that means is that he did not leave the country on the date that ICE told him to leave the country. ICE is now calling him an immigration fugitive. However, what Jose Juan says is that they made him a fugitive.

MIKE BURKE: And can you describe how the community has organized around this case?

REYNA WENCES: Of course. So, there’s been community support here, right behind me, at the church, and that means from people being with him 24/7, taking shifts to be at the church, making sure that, you know, he has—that he’s OK, checking in on him, also as a preventative step, right? We know that ICE is not supposed to show up in sensitive locations, as it is—as our churches, hospitals and schools; however, we also know that ICE can be deceptive in their tactics, and we believe that we have to be prepared in case ICE comes here. And so, we’ve actually extended the—and asked for community members to come here to meet Jose Juan, but also to volunteer and either host events or get to know him.

MIKE BURKE: Can you talk a little bit about how you personally got involved with organizing around immigrant rights?

REYNA WENCES: I became involved in organizing because I, myself, was undocumented. I came here into the United States when I was nine years old. And the story of Jose Juan and his family is not very far from their reality—my reality at some point. And so I’m here because now I see the privilege that I have now, being able to work with a work permit and drive with a driver’s license, and I don’t have that same fear now that other people do. But I do believe that if there is going to be change, if we are going to stop deportations, it’s going to take not just people that are aware of this issue, but it’s going to take people that are directly affected to come out and to organize, and it’s also going to take people like myself to support and making sure that the people that are directly affected are leading the way on this fight.

MIKE BURKE: Now, we’re in the Hyde Park section of Chicago. And I understand, you know, President Obama’s home is just about a mile, maybe even less than a mile, from this church. And I’m wondering: What is your message to him?

REYNA WENCES: Our message has been to stop deportations. We’ve been saying this since 2012, and even before that. It’s unfortunate that President Obama started his presidency in 2008 with promises to the immigrant community, which very soon ended up in deportations. That’s basically what happened. And Obama knows that, and he’s done it. He has the power to stop deportations, not just to give relief to a specific group of people like he’s done with DACA and DAPA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. He can do more than that. And so, we’re hoping that with the presidential elections, both the president and the candidates that are running for office will see that what is happening here is a representation also of the resistance that immigrants are taking on and how—the way that immigrants are resisting across the country.

MIKE BURKE: Well, let’s go inside the church and meet Jose Juan and the pastor.

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] My name is Jose Juan Moreno. I’ve been living here in the United States for 16 years. I’m a husband, and I’m a father of five children. Both are U.S. citizens. My oldest daughter is about to turn 14, and my youngest son is two years old.

MIKE BURKE: And where are they right now?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] They live in Bolingbrook, and they go to school in Bolingbrook. They come to visit frequently, but not every day, because I don’t want them to miss school.

MIKE BURKE: If ICE came and deported you, what would that mean to your family?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] Maybe it would be a psychological trauma for my children and my wife, who visit me very often. It would be very difficult if ICE came for me, difficult for them, no? But we hope this doesn’t happen.

MIKE BURKE: And what happened a month ago that forced you to seek sanctuary here in the church?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] I tried to do everything that ICE told me to do. I tried to do everything they required. But they weren’t interested in the good parts of me or the support I was receiving from different community groups. I know I made a mistake seven years ago, for which I am very sorry for, but I think that this has made me learn more about life.

MIKE BURKE: What was that mistake seven years ago?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] Driving under the influence of alcohol.

MIKE BURKE: And so, because of that one offense, the United States government is threatening to deport you?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] Yes, for this offense, which I committed seven years ago. My case was an aggravated DUI, because I didn’t have a license. But none of us undocumented people could get licenses seven years ago, so it was very difficult for us.

MIKE BURKE: Right behind you is a sign that says, “I stand”—or, actually, two signs that say, “I stand with Jose Juan.” And I’m wondering: What has it meant to have this church and the broader community be supportive of your case?

JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO: [translated] It means a lot to me, this huge support I’ve received. I’m so thankful to the church, to the community, to the groups that are with me. This means a lot to me and to my family.

REV. JULIAN DESHAZIER: So, I’m the Reverend Julian DeShazier. I’m the pastor here at University Church. The tradition of sanctuary has gone back hundreds of years. And for the church, we became involved in 1985 when there was civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador, and people were coming up to the States, and then the States had once welcomed them, but then we sent them all back into what was certain persecution. And so, for us, at that moment, we welcomed two families to come and stay here and to be inside of the church, to be protected while they were fighting to have documentation and to be able to stay in the country, which they ended up receiving and are still a part of our church’s life. And so, once we heard about Jose Juan and what was going on, and talked to our partners, we knew this was a perfect opportunity for us to again become involved in something that is really a national crisis.

MIKE BURKE: And what would happen if ICE agents showed up right now with the intent of, you know, taking Jose Juan?

REV. JULIAN DESHAZIER: Well, what ICE does is up to them. We can’t control what they will or won’t do. We know that if they do come, that there will be people here to serve as a witness to the extremes that the government is willing to go to to separate a father from his family. Other than that, Jose Juan is welcome to be here and to live here and to receive the love of the church. And we know—we hope that ICE will not come into this place, that they called a sensitive location. We call it sacred space. But the reality is that—that communities and homes are sacred spaces, as well, and the ways in which immigration policy is being enforced and set up right now, they’re being—raids are happening right now inside of those communities that are also sacred spaces. And so, we should look at this as an opportunity to look at everything that’s happening right now, not just for Jose Juan, but for millions of others, to do something better, to see that we are doing—we are not doing the right thing as a country right now.

MIKE BURKE: And what has the response been from the parish to this church becoming a sanctuary church?

REV. JULIAN DESHAZIER: Well, very supportive. I think folks not only inside of the church who are committed to this, but around the community, have been supportive and have sent us letters and voicemails to let us know that they appreciate our courage. I think when churches begin to think about it in that sort of way, and whether it’s a church, a temple, mosque, whatever, when they see that this is the opportunity to do what it says—”welcome the stranger”—like this is our opportunity to live that out in a real way and not just in a theoretical kind of way, that other churches and faith communities are starting to ask the question of how they can live into that in a more meaningful and tangible way, and this is one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Reverend Julian DeShazier, pastor of the University Church in Chicago, which opened its doors last month as a sanctuary church to house Jose Juan Federico Moreno, who’s attempting to avoid deportation to Mexico—all interviewed by Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke. Go to Democracy Now! to see our coverage also from Denver last year, when we interviewed Arturo Hernández García, who sought sanctuary in Denver's First Unitarian Society Church for five months, until ICE assured him he was not a priority for deportation. He’s still living here in the United States.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we remember John Ross, who covered Mexico and the United States for decades. Stay with us. The rebel reporter.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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