The arrest of an illegal immigrant in North Carolina after an getting into a tussle with immigration officials sparked protests and an alleged assault on an ICE agent.
A scheduled appointment on Friday for Samuel Oliver-Bruno with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Morrisville broke down as he was arrested following a “scuffle” with immigration officers, The News & Observer reported.
The 47-year-old, originally from Veracruz, Mexico, left the church where he has been living for the past 11 months as he has awaited a petition to delay his deportation, to provide requested fingerprints at the immigration office, according to the advocacy group for the rights of immigrants, Alerta Migratoria.
Family members, supporters and the pastor of the City Well United Methodist Church gathered to pray over Oliver-Bruno as he entered the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office Friday morning along with his son, Daniel Oliver Perez, according to The News & Observer.
“This a required part of that process on the part of USCIS, and so we’re asking that our government honor a person’s attempt to follow the process,” CityWell’s pastor Cleve May told the crowd before entering the building.
“Your presence here is a very helpful thing in demonstrating the community support and the fact that if any violation of this due process were to occur it will not go unwitnessed and it will not go before the community crying out for justice,” he added.
Once inside, an altercation allegedly occurred between the illegal immigrant, his son and immigration officers leading to the arrest of Oliver-Bruno, who was then taken outside and placed in a Department of Homeland Security vehicle which was quickly surrounded by the crowd.
In the ensuing protest which saw supporters block the government vehicle from leaving for nearly two hours, Perez, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in the parking lot after allegedly “approaching the van to say goodbye to his father,” as the News & Observer reported.
In the video coverage, Perez could be seen approaching the front driver’s side door of the government vehicle and reaching in by the driver’s seat. In handcuffs being led away, he told a reporter he was just “trying to defend” his dad.
Several of the protesters, including the pastor, were arrested by Morrisville Police and the Wake Sheriff’s Office after ignoring multiple warnings to disperse. The crowd prevented the vehicle carrying Oliver-Bruno from leaving for about two hours as many sang worship songs and prayed.
Oliver-Bruno reportedly left Mexico in 1994 to live in Greenville and his wife joined him in 1996 with a work permit. He was arrested at the border in 2014 when he tried to re-enter from Mexico using fraudulent documents, according to ICE’s statement. He was convicted, completed his federal sentence but was not deported following petitions for delay.
Oliver-Bruno, who then lived in the basement of the church, is one of six illegal immigrants in North Carolina staying in “sanctuary churches” as ICE does not generally make arrests.
Conflicting accounts arose over Friday’s incident as supporters claim the arrest was a set-up, while an ICE spokesman said Oliver-Bruno has no legal basis to remain in the U.S.”
“By them leaving the church and entering these (immigration) offices they are essentially putting themselves in harm’s way … to make this request,” Virdiana Martinez, Alerta Migratoria’s director, said.
North Carolina Democratic Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield accused USCIS and ICE of coordinating Oliver-Bruno’s arrest.
“It appears ICE has acted in concert with officials at USCIS, who instructed Mr. Oliver-Bruno to appear at local USCIS offices to discuss his deferred deportation,” they said in a joint statement. “He was then apprehended by plainclothes ICE agents upon entering the building. At best, Mr. Oliver-Bruno was presented with a catch-22 dilemma; at worst, he was entrapped. It’s clear that while Mr. Oliver-Bruno was attempting to follow the law in pursuit of his legal petition, ICE coordinated with USCIS to target him upon his leaving the City Well United Methodist Church.”
ICE issued a statement to The News & Observer through a spokesperson.
“Mr. Oliver-Bruno is a convicted criminal who has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, has no outstanding appeals, and has no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said. “Mr. Oliver-Bruno is a convicted criminal who has received all appropriate legal process under federal law, has no outstanding appeals, and has no legal basis to remain in the U.S.”
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson Michael Bars said in a statement: “Importantly, however, the agency does not schedule an appointment at our Application Support Centers for an applicant who does not have a pending immigration benefit request.”
Price and Butterfield indicated in their joint letter that “ICE has committed to allow Mr. Oliver-Bruno to remain in the U.S. in detention while his case is adjudicated.”
“While this means he will not be immediately deported, we remain committed to fighting for his release,” they said.
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