Marco Antonio Reyes, an undocumented resident of Meriden who defied his deportation order on Aug. 8, is currently seeking refuge at New Haven’s First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, located at the intersection of Elm and College streets.

Unbeknownst to most Yalies and New Haven residents who walk past, the church currently houses Reyes and his wife, Fanny Reyes, as the couple await legal efforts that may lead to asylum status for the Ecuadorian immigrant who has lived in the United States for 20 years. Meanwhile, the local immigrant rights group Unidad Latina en Acción is rallying Yale students and Elm City residents for a Friday evening demonstration in support of Reyes on the church’s steps.

ULA member and rally co-organizer Ramon Garibaldo Valdez GRD ’22 said, despite what he described as the University administration’s lukewarm attitude toward establishing Yale as a sanctuary campus, it is important for the student body to realize that immigrant sanctuaries could be as close to campus as the Methodist church.

“[The church] is next to the School of Music. This is happening very much in Yale,” he said. “The rally is mostly for students to not forget that Marco is here.”

Marco Reyes, who first arrived in the country in 1997, lived in Meriden. He was a model citizen who had no problems with police until he took a wrong detour on his family trip to Michigan in 2007 and found himself in Canada, he said, where immigration officials discovered his undocumented status as he crossed back into the country.

In the decade since, Reyes had attempted many times to obtain a stay of removal, which was eventually granted to him in 2016 as he demonstrated that he was no threat to society and that his family greatly depended on him.

The stay, which must be renewed annually, was denied this year as the Trump administration stepped up its effort to deport undocumented immigrants. Valdez pointed out that requests for these temporary stays of removal are increasingly difficult to obtain.

According to Marco Reyes’ lawyer Erin O’Neil-Baker, the federal government’s deportation effort during the Obama era was categorized by priorities, and it had not identified Reyes as an urgent subject for deportation. But this policy had since been overhauled after the election of President Donald Trump, who has openly committed to cracking down on deporting undocumented residents.

A series of U.S. Department of Justice memorandum dated Feb. 20, 2017, announced that its subsidiary agencies such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would discontinue prioritizing deportation cases.

O’Neil-Baker added that this change in policy meant that Reyes was lumped together with all other undocumented immigrants, regardless of their criminal record in the U.S.

Reyes was ordered to leave the country by Aug. 8, the same day he took another detour on the road and drove to New Haven for sanctuary rather than boarding a plane back to Ecuador. Fanny Reyes said this was “a very difficult” decision for the family of five, whose youngest member is 12 years old.

“It’s a lot of emotions. He is here and cannot get out,” Fanny Reyes said. “But also, we feel blessed and protected because he is at a safe place until we can finally get an answer. This is all very frustrating.”

Defying his deportation order effectively makes Marco Reyes a fugitive in the eyes of immigration authorities. But O’Neil-Baker said Reyes’ decision indicates that the risk of returning to Ecuador outweighs his fugitive status.

O’Neil-Baker added that she has filed for an appeal with the DOJ’s Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen Reyes’ stay of removal request because he may qualify for asylum status. A convicted murderer in Ecuador was recently released from prison and has repeatedly made death threats to Reyes’ family members, she explained, pointing out that demonstrating a threat to Reyes’ life is the only legal vehicle to seek asylum for him. His family members have also traveled to the U.S. and are also currently seeking asylum, O’Neil-Baker said.

In addition to legal and activist efforts, elected officials have lent their voice to Reyes’ case. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., introduced a personal immigration bill — the last resort that federal legislators can take to prevent the deportation of certain individuals — to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Aug. 3.

But the bill was introduced during the Senate’s August recess, which means Blumenthal has yet to appeal to the Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who holds the power to call off an ICE deportation case.

“[Trump’s immigration policies] mark an abrupt and arbitrary change from longstanding policies that prioritized serious criminal offenders and others who are dangerous,” Blumenthal said in a statement to the News. “Private bills are one useful means of addressing the shortcomings of our broken immigration system in especially egregious cases of injustice.”

The Senate resumes session on Sept. 5.

Amy | @Amy_23_Cheng