Carly Wanna

Strict immigration policies enforced by the federal government have impacted countless individuals across the country — and one New Haven family finds its livelihood turned upside-down.

This Wednesday marks the 300th day that Nelson Pinos has been in sanctuary at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven. Nearly a week since hundreds of Yale and Elm City students walked out of class, Unidad Latina en Acción — a New Haven–based grassroots immigrant activist group — continues to push for policy changes that would allow him and others in similar situations to stay despite deportation threats.

“What was done so far, the rally, the events at the church … the walkout, are a series of actions we’re having,” ULA activist Vanesa Suarez said. “We plan to continue them until Nelson is free, and even after that because we have other families in sanctuary, not in New Haven, but in other towns in Connecticut.”

Nelson Pinos, a 43-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant, first came to the United States in 1992. Pinos had been reporting to immigration check-in for years, but in October 2017, he was told to permanently leave the country by Nov. 30. To avoid deportation, he took sanctuary at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church. In 2011, former ICE director John Morton issued a memo stating that officers are unable to enforce deportation law in areas such as schools, hospitals and churches.

Suarez said ULA is holding meetings every Monday to discuss further efforts to free Pinos. She said the group may be coordinating another walkout and that some ULA members are planning to travel to the Virginia Board of Immigration Appeals — the highest administrative body for enforcing immigration laws. The Board has the power to grant Pinos an emergency stay and allow him to argue his case in court. According to Suarez, Pinos’ case is still unreviewed.

Pinos was the sole provider for his family — his wife and two children — until he was laid off from his job after receiving his deportation order.

Both children have been heavily affected by their father’s situation. Kelly Pinos, a junior at Wilbur Cross High School, said no families should be forcibly separated, noting that her father’s situation is affecting her performance at school. Suarez said that Pinos’ youngest son Brandon Pinos is also distracted from his studies because of his father’s situation.

Nelson first sought refuge in the church just a week after Marco Reyes Alvarez, another undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant, was granted a temporary stay after taking sanctuary in the church for three months in 2017.

Suarez said that she hopes New Haven students will be more cognizant of how their peers are affected by immigration policies. Additionally, she hopes Pinos’ case will lead to the decriminalization of other immigrants.

Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said Mayor Toni Harp has repeatedly asserted that immigrants are not criminals, based on her noncompliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement orders.

“Lawmakers from each major political party have been saying for many years that the federal government is overdue for a wholesale overhaul of its immigration laws and policies with regard to enforcing those laws,” Grotheer said.

Grotheer noted that as immigration is under the purview of the federal government, the city of New Haven and state of Connecticut are limited in their ability to intervene. He said Harp supports Pinos and his family.

Yale students have also participated in ULA demonstrations, with many, including Gianna Baez ’21, participating in the walkout last week. In an interview with the News, Baez said it is important for members of the Yale administration to speak out in support of Pinos.

Other students who were interviewed concurred.

“Yale loves to say there’s no separation between Yale and the New Haven community,” Saphia Suarez ’21 said. “But when issues like this arise, we don’t see much of a response from Yale administration.”

Nelson Pinos is not the only immigrant to take sanctuary in Connecticut. In October 2017, Sujitno Sajuti took sanctuary at the Meriden Church, and since March 2018, couple Malik Naveed bin Rehman and Zahida Altaf have lived in The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

Kelly Wei |