Isabel Bysiewicz

Facing deportation orders, Nelson Pinos has lived in sanctuary at the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church on the New Haven Green for over 500 days. Pinos, his family and roughly 100 community members gathered at the church on Saturday evening to view a photo exhibition of his experience in sanctuary.

The event included both the photo display and speeches in English and Spanish from Pinos, event organizers and pastor Vicki Flippin, who works at the church. The exhibition, organized by Unidad Latina en Acción with Pinos and his family over the past three months, features photographs of protests and rallies as well as of Pinos and his family. The photos will be on display in the church for the next two weeks before being moved to other sanctuaries across the state.

“When we talked about what [it means] to fight for someone’s freedom, a lot of it has been us on the ground and protesting and rallying around the streets,” said event organizer Vanesa Suarez. “But a lot of it has also been being a community and having picnics and holding space for each other — for Nelson and his family.”

During a check-in in October 2017, ICE officials ordered Pinos to return permanently to Ecuador, where he is a citizen, by the end of the month. A few weeks later, the manufacturing company that had employed Pinos for 15 years requested that he not come to work until his immigration status was resolved. In November, Pinos sought sanctuary at First and Summerfield. A 2011 memo from ICE’s then-director John Morton directs officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals.

Suarez said that the photo exhibition serves as both a reflection on what community members and activists from Unidad Latina en Acción — a New Haven-based immigrant rights group — have already accomplished and an inspiration to continue advocating for Pinos’ freedom. She emphasized that although Pinos remains in sanctuary, the awareness that activists have spread about his situation is a victory in and of itself.

After attendees took some time to view the photos, Pinos welcomed everyone to the event and thanked his legal team at the Esperanza Center for Law and Advocacy in Norwalk, Connecticut, for their work. He and event organizers also shared updates on his case — on May 14, the legal team will argue before the Eighth Circuit Court in Minnesota. Flippin also gave remarks, calling the display an “amazing exhibition of solidarity and struggle.”

In interviews with the News, attendees said they attended the exhibition to support Pinos and his family. Cindy Clair expressed her hope that those who are unfamiliar with Pinos’ situation will learn from the display. Clair is a member of Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible, an organization that mobilizes volunteers to support immigrants facing deportation.

“A visual representation is really important and maybe shows people who aren’t [at the church] all the time what’s going on,” said Sarah Eppler-Epstein, who works with ULA.

In an interview with the News, Pinos said that he had prepared the space for the event, by “sweeping the floor, putting the racks together [and] putting the pictures on the wall.”

He and his family selected most of the pictures. His favorites depict large crowds protesting Pinos’ deportation order. On Sept. 20, 2018, approximately 400 Yale students and community members participated in a walkout organized by ULA. Earlier that month, hundreds of community members rallied on the Green in a similar demonstration followed by a speaker series featuring young female undocumented immigrants.

“I can’t tell [how many people there are]. It’s countless. It’s like a river of people,” Pinos said Saturday while describing his favorite photos.

First and Summerfield United Methodist Church is located at 425 College St.

Mackenzie Hawkins | .

Mackenzie is the editor in chief and president of the Managing Board of 2022. She previously covered City Hall for the News, including the 2019 mayoral race and New Haven's early pandemic response. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a junior in Trumbull College studying ethics, politics and economics.