Pastor Jose Chicas, 52, from El Salvador, has lived in the U.S. for over 30 years. He has been an integral part of the local community, pastoring the Iglesia Evangélica Jesús el Pan de Vida in Raleigh, NC and working as a custodian at a local church. Now, because of a 30-year-old deportation order, he’s living at the School for Conversion in Durham, in sanctuary.
Pastor Chicas fled El Salvador during the violent civil war of the 1980s and came to the US seeking asylum. Because of poor legal advice, he skipped his hearing and ended up with a deportation order that has followed him throughout his time in the U.S. He eventually settled in Raleigh and traveled regularly to the Charlotte ICE field office for check-ins. He was given a social security number, work permit, and driver's license; he also paid taxes.
Now, after 30 years, ICE has changed its mind about Jose Chicas. At a regular check-in in Spring 2017, Pastor Chicas was informed that he had one month to buy a one-way plane ticket to El Salvador and never come back.
In the 1990s, before Chicas and his wife experienced a spiritual conversion, he struggled with alcoholism. During that time, he was charged with and pled guilty to driving under the influence and domestic abuse. Pastor Chicas hypothesizes that it was this record, part of the full and difficult life that transformed him into the man he is today, that caused his name to come up for deportation once the new political regime came into power in 2017.
A family man, Pastor Chicas has been married to Sandra for over 20 years and the couple has four children together: three are American citizens, one is a Dreamer. Sandra has a work permit and is allowed to stay in the U.S. When he came home with the news of his deportation, the Chicas family decided that such a permanent separation between husband and wife, father and children (not to mention between pastor and church community), was not an option.
However, life in sanctuary has been difficult for Pastor Chicas and his family. Because ICE can arrest him if he leaves the church grounds, he has been forced to stay in Durham, while his wife and family live in their home in Raleigh. Pastor Chicas washes cars in the church parking lot to help with the family finances, but it’s not enough, and the family has been struggling to stay afloat on Sandra’s single income.
The hardest thing is the stress of unknowing. When he first entered sanctuary, Pastor Chicas thought it would only last a month or two before his legal situation would change and he could return to his life and ministry. However, two months have turned into over a year, and he may not be able to leave the house until after the election in 2020, when, hopefully, governmental power changes hands to leaders more sympathetic to his impossible position.
We, the family, friends, and supporters of Jose Chicas, ask that you join us in supporting a man of faith who has been a pillar in our community for over 30 years. Donations of time, resources, or funds are joyfully accepted, as well as political engagement and protest. Pastor Jose Chicas’ story needs to be heard by those in power, like the stories of all those in sanctuary, so that justice can finally be restored.