Isabel Bysiewicz

After seeking sanctuary in a local church for more than three months, Marco Reyes, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, spent his Thanksgiving at home in Meriden.

A Thanksgiving potluck on Nov. 22 at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., was cut short when Reyes received a phone call from his attorney, Erin O’Neil-Baker. She informed Reyes that he was allowed to return to his home in Meriden while the New York-based United States Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit decides whether to hear his case. After O’Neil-Baker filed a petition with the appeals court on Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency — permitted Reyes to go home for the time being, the lawyer told Reyes.

After the phone call, a sense of relief filled the room. But there was little time to celebrate: Reyes and his family rushed to coordinate travel to Hartford. O’Neil-Baker told Reyes at roughly 11:30 a.m. that he needed to check in with the homeland security field office in Hartford before 1:30 p.m. if he wished to return home for Thanksgiving.

“I am very, very, very happy,” Reyes said. “Sorry, I don’t have words right now.”

Reyes has worked in construction since he came to the United States in 1997. He took sanctuary in the church in August, after he was ordered to leave the country.

Blumenthal said the homeland security department has committed to not arrest or deport Reyes. Still, although the government has granted Reyes a reprieve, Blumenthal noted, his case is not finalized and it remains unclear how long the reprieve will last. Regardless, the senator said, he will continue to work with O’Neil-Baker to ensure that Reyes has the opportunity to present his case in federal court.

“He can return home, but we need to continue to fight so he has a fair day in court and his rights can be vindicated, and we will continue that fight,” Blumenthal said.

Now that an appeals court has granted a review of Reyes’ case, ICE is deferring the case to the judicial system and temporarily staying Reyes’ removal.

Reyes’ newfound freedom represents a victory for Unidad Latina en Acción, a local immigrant rights organization. Joseph Foran, who has volunteered with Unidad Latina en Acción for five years, said the activist group has been in crisis mode since the election of President Donald Trump a year ago.

“There has been case after case of innocent people who need support and people who we’ve known for years,” Foran said. “It’s pummeling, but we’re going to stand up for our human rights.”

For other local immigrants who face imminent deportation, such as Sujitno Sajuti — a West Hartford resident who sought sanctuary in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden in early October — and Nury Chavarria — a resident of Norwalk and a mother of four who took sanctuary in a Fair Haven Church in July — Reyes’ reprieval raises the possibility that they may find their way home too.

Yet hope is still faint for other local undocumented immigrants. Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, who is also an Ecuadorian seeking sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, was ordered to return to Ecuador by Nov. 30 during an early October ICE check-in.

Reyes has three children.

Isabel Bysiewicz |

This story is updated to reflect the print version that ran on Nov. 27, 2017.