First Congregational Church of Amherst commemorates one year with undocumented immigrant family

Lucio Perez and his family sought sanctuary at the Church to escape deportation order

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(Alvin Buyinza/ Daily Collegian)

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

Community members of Amherst gathered in the First Congregational Church to mark one year since Lucio Perez, an undocumented immigrant, and his family moved into the church to seek sanctuary.

According to a press release, Perez and his family moved into the church on Oct. 18, 2017 to escape a deportation order. Since then, his case has engendered massive amounts of support from local community organizations such as the Pioneer Valley Workers Center who are organizing the public campaign against his deportation to Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, who have both advocated for his case.

The commemoration began with a speech from Perez who thanked everyone who has supported him and his family during their stay. Perez, being a Spanish only speaker, was accompanied by Margaret Sawyer, a lead organizer of the PVWC, who translated his speech to the rest of the congregation.

“There is a passage in the Bible that is so beautiful and so precious to unite all of your loved ones together. Everyone is welcome, brothers and sisters together, thank you for being here,” he said.

Since his time being at the Church, Perez has taught Spanish classes to over 50 students and is an active member in both the First Church Amherst and Primer Iglesia Church, a Spanish-speaking church that operates alongside the First Church Amherst.

Following his speech, Vicki Kemper, pastor of the First Church of Amherst, addressed the mixed feelings of joy and sadness that she and the community had undergone during the year of Perez’s stay.

“This event is an unusual mixture of anguish and hope, anger and resolve, fatigue and persistent, trust and gratitude…” Kemper said. “We don’t want to celebrate the year in which Lucio and his family have been kept apart by the policies of our government, and yet we give thanks that they can still see one another regularly.”

In addition to the First Church assisting Perez’s family in their time of need, many members of the community have also stepped in to help them as well. In just the past year, 13 congregations have sent full meals to Perez’s family four times a week.

Tony, the eldest of Perez’s children, also came up to speak at the event. Tony recalled the difficulties he has personally had to deal with since he and his family moved into the church, specifically recalling the day he found out that his father had been transported to the hospital for an appendectomy surgery.

“I received a phone call from my mom saying, ‘your dad is at the hospital and something happened,’” he said. “A lot of questions were running through my head like, ‘how my dad is in sanctuary he can’t get out?’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Has ICE got him or something like that, or [are] police waiting for him at the hospital? Will he recover?’”

“There has been a lot of tough stuff that me and my family have been through,” he continued, “I am pretty sure that everyone here has a pretty hard time, like we may not know but they have personal things and that we have been struggling also. I thank God for the strength, the strength that he has for me and my family, and I thank everybody out here for supporting us here tonight.”

Toward the end of the commemoration, local politicians including Springfield City Councilor Jesse Lederman and representatives for Sen. Warren spoke on their support for efforts to protect undocumented immigrants in this country.

The Church also presented a pre-recorded video delivered by the office of Rep. Markey, who spoke on the efforts he would personally go to support Perez’s family.

“I was inspired by Lucio to proudly co-sponsor the Protective Sensitive Locations act legislation that prohibits immigration enforcement actions from occurring at or near sensitive locations, including churches without prior approval,” Markey said.

At the end of the commemoration, members of the church, local politicians and workers from the PVWC gathered outside and held hands to celebrate and support Perez and his family.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to Ed Markey incorrectly as a state representative. The article has been updated to accurately describe him as a Massachusetts senator.