This Father Won’t Leave A Chicago-Area Church Until ICE Promises Not To Deport Him

Jose Juan Federico Moreno (right) CREDIT: JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO
Jose Juan Federico Moreno (right) CREDIT: JOSE JUAN FEDERICO MORENO

Jose Juan Federico Moreno is desperate to stay with his loved ones. He’s the breadwinner of his family, with five children ranging between 2 and 14 years old. Three of his kids have asthma and one has a developmental disability.

But, unlike his kids, Federico Moreno isn’t a U.S. citizen. He’s an unauthorized immigrant living in Illinois, and — thanks to a years-old drunk-driving conviction that he says was a “mistake” he’s never repeated — he’s now being targeted for deportation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

As the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to grant broad deportation protection for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country, Federico Moreno is just one example of someone who’s currently suffering the consequences of harsh enforcement policies.

Back in 2009, Federico Moreno was pulled over and charged with a DUI. And because he didn’t have a driver’s license — a privilege that undocumented immigrants weren’t entitled to at the time — local police charged him with an “aggravated” DUI. He paid his fees and took the required classes. Still, the ICE agency used the years-old “aggravated” charge to justify classifying him as a high priority for deportation, according to the immigrant advocacy group Not1More campaign.

Last Friday, Federico Moreno was issued a final deportation order to “self-deport.” Worried about being separated from his kids, Federico Moreno has since taken sanctuary in a Chicago-area church — hoping that federal immigration agents will adhere to an agency-wide policy of not going after immigrants in safe spaces like schools, churches, and hospitals.

This policy spurred what’s known as the “sanctuary movement.” A growing number of U.S. churches have vowed to harbor immigrants in worship halls to protect them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.

“We welcome Jose Juan into our sanctuary because we believe our faith compels us to respond to injustice, to welcome the stranger, to promote families staying together,” the pastor at the University Church of Chicago, Julian DeShazier, told ThinkProgress via email. “As a church we are proud to stand by Jose Juan and his family, and the dozen of other churches across the country who are opening their doors, responding to the call to action, to say NOT ONE MORE!”

At the University Church of Chicago, Federico Moreno has a simple and humble room furnished with a bed, futon, and couch so his family can visit and spend time with him. He intends on staying at the church until the ICE agency heeds his petition to delay his deportation.

If he’s deported back to Mexico, Federico Moreno’s family will face “immense hardship,” he told ThinkProgress through a translator.

“For the children, they would be robbed of the opportunity to spend time with their father.

“For the children, they would be robbed of the opportunity to spend time with their father and it would impact them — beyond the economic stuff — in a psychological way,” he said.

In an attempt to focus its immigration enforcement, the Obama administration has issued a series of policy memos over the years advising ICE agents to be more lenient on parents of U.S.-citizen children or people with other long-standing ties to the country. Federico Moreno believes he fits those criteria. So do immigrant advocates.

“One of the things they emphasized is on looking at people’s whole stories,” Lissette Castillo, an immigration organizer with the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, told ThinkProgress in reference to the administration’s guidance. “Once you hear Jose Juan’s story, you see there’s a lot of different [factors]: he’s been here a really long time, he’s the father of five U.S. citizen children. But ICE isn’t taking those factors into consideration — almost looking solely and exclusively at that mistake he made in 2009 for which he repented and took steps to remedy for that mistake. And they’re trying to use that as the reason to separate him from his family.”

ICE agents have yet to enter sensitive locations to arrest immigrants. But in the past few months, they have come close. Reynold Garcia, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, was lured out of a church with fake text messages by ICE agents in early January. And ICE agents have picked up Central American teenagers on their way to school, which has caused mass panic among immigrants even beyond the communities affected by immigration raids.

“We absolutely condemn the various ways and tactics which ICE is using to sow fear within immigrant communities,” Castillo said.

Two years ago, President Obama pledged to focus on “felons not families,” a promise intended to assure the immigrant community that the administration’s enforcement efforts will be focused on top security priorities — like immigrants who have committed serious crimes, immigrants who have recently crossed the border, or immigrants who lost their court cases.

But in recent months, ICE has targeted some people who defy these very boundaries. Castillo said there seems to be a “disconnect” between the type of immigrants the administration wants to go after versus the way that local ICE offices are actually operating.

Through the sanctuary movement, places of worship have been on the front lines of holding the president accountable for this divide.

And the University Church of Chicago specifically has a long history of involvement with this issue. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the church took in people fleeing violence and civil from Guatemala and El Salvador.

Though the experience of staying inside a church is new for Federico Moreno, he has no plans to leave. “It’s been a difficult process, but we’re as a family united to stay together until the end,” he said.