It was supposed to be a vigil. The Farmington community had gathered on the night before the expected deportation of Kris and Tony Huang. But that night, the crowd learned the Huangs had been granted a stay of deportation, and sorrow soon became celebration.

On Thursday afternoon, following the efforts of local communities and state officials, the Huangs, a Farmington couple scheduled for removal the next day, was granted a stay by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. The Huangs, who illegally came the United States from China nearly 20 years ago, own a nail salon in Simsbury, have raised two children — both American citizens — and have no criminal record. Earlier last week, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, D-Conn., and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy sent letters urging a stay to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us. I feel so blessed,” the couple’s son Andrew Huang said at the celebration. “[My parents] are my heros. They work extra hard just for me and my brother.”

In a statement Thursday, Blumenthal said he is “overjoyed and relieved beyond words” by the news of the stay. He called the outpouring of community support for the family “a true testament to American values” and “a stark contrast to the depraved deportation policies of the Trump administration.”

Eric Wellman, first selectman of Simsbury, said that the Huangs have been running the nail salon Deco Nails for over a decade and that the salon has become an important part of the community. Few residents were aware of the Huangs’ immigration status, and their impending deportation did not come to the community’s attention until a friend addressed the situation in a petition posted on Facebook.

Laurie Kane, the friend who created the petition on moveon.org on Feb. 2 and helped organize rallies, told the News that she learned of the deportation when talking with the couple in a local library. They were “devastated,” Kane said, and she felt compelled to start petitions on social media and reach out to local officials.

“Once upon a time, I too was an immigrant,” she said. “I have two children of my own, and I only want the best for my girls. Is that a fault or is it part of being a human being and a parent?”

Kane also noted that the Huangs were in the process of applying for green cards but had not succeeded. The stay represents “a small victory in a long process” and will allow their case for permanent residency to go forward, Kane said.

In his letter to the Department of Homeland Security, Malloy said the couple’s two children, who are 5- and 15-years old, would be adversely affected by their parents’ deportation. If deported, the Huangs could also be treated as dissidents and face persecution in China for openly voicing support for democracy and the American way of life, Malloy said.

“Tony and Kris emigrated from China in search of freedom and a better life for their children,” he said in his letter. “These two children know no other home than the United States. Deporting them would send these two youths into foster care, and tear their family apart.”

Hailing from the Jilin Province in Northeastern China, the Huangs are practicing Christians of Korean descent. According to Murphy’s letter to ICE, the Huangs feared they might face persecution on account of their religion or deportation to North Korea, where their ancestors lived. The letters also said that, according to their attorney Erin O’Neil-Baker, the Chinese government had begun a media campaign against the family, and Tony Huang had received death threats.

The Hartford Legal Group, the firm where O’Neil-Baker works, did not respond to requests for further clarification of the the couple’s case and potential threats as of Monday evening. Citing operational and security protocol, the Immigration and Customs Services declined to comment specifically on the Huangs’ case.

Aside from Thursday’s celebration, local communities have held several rallies in support of the Huang family, including one on Feb. 9 in front of the Immigration and Customs Service’s Hartford field office, attended by Blumenthal. Patti Boye-Williams, a member of the Farmington town Council, said the community has also taken other steps to support the family, including ensuring their children could stay in Farmington public schools if the Huangs were deported. She also credited local community groups, such as Forward CT, for the effectiveness of the advocacy efforts and the outsized attention the case has received.

Still, Wellman cautioned that the Huangs may represent the fortunate few among undocumented immigrants, owing to both the community’s political activism and the compelling nature of their case.

“They are the one family out of thousands that are facing the same situation right now and don’t have the same level of attention,” Wellman said.

Nationally, while the number of deportees has dipped due to court backlog and a decline in border crossing, the number of arrests by the Immigration and Customs Services, especially of people without criminal convictions, has soared since President Donald Trump took office, registering a 146 percent increase in fiscal year 2017, according to the agency’s 2017 operations report.

Simsbury is roughly 50 miles north of New Haven.

Malcolm Tang | jiawei.tang@yale.edu