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Keeping positive in tough times: Lucio Perez and family to spend holiday in Amherst church

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst, right, visits Dec. 22, 2017 with his daughter Lucy, 8. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst, at back, hugs his son Jordan, 13, goodbye following a visit Friday. Below, Perez visits with Dora Gonzalez, his wife. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY PHOTOS

  • Dora Gonzalez, left, talks Dec. 22, 2017 about being away from her husband Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst, right, visits Dec. 22, 2017 with his daughter Lucy, 8. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant taking sanctuary in the First Congregational Church of Amherst, right, visits Friday with Dora Gonzalez, his wife. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY PHOTOS



@dustyc123
Thursday, December 28, 2017

AMHERST — For many families, the Christmas holiday is a time to be at home with family.

For Lucio Perez, however, the moment will have to be spent in the confines of First Congregational Church, where he took up sanctuary to avoid deportation in October.

Last year at this time, Perez and his family were shopping for gifts, making plans for how they would spend the holiday together as a family. They ate the traditional Christmas dishes of Guatemala, where Perez and his wife Dora Gonzalez migrated from nearly two decades ago: tamales and fruit punch.

This year, the couple and their children will be joined by a group of people at Perez’s new home, where they say they’ll try to make the best of an incredibly difficult situation.

“I didn’t picture myself here,” Gonzalez said. “The truth isn’t easy, to not have your husband next to you.”

Perez showed up on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s radar after he had a brief encounter with police in West Hartford in 2009. He and his wife ran into a Dunkin’ Donuts and briefly left their children in the car, and when they came back out the car was surrounded with cops.

Child abandonment charges were dropped against Perez, but in the process the police alerted ICE to his presence and the agency began deportation proceedings against him, according to his lawyer.

Under the administration of President Barack Obama, undocumented immigrants like Perez weren’t a priority for deportation as authorities instead focused on violent criminals and those who posed national security risks. Perez was granted five stays of deportation, and checked in for regular visits with ICE officials.

Under President Donald Trump, however, cases like Perez’s are again a priority, and in July he was ordered to purchase a ticket to a country he hasn’t been to since he left in 1999.

“This little error brought us to this?” Gonzalez said her kids always tell her. “It isn’t fair.”

Now, Perez spends his days in loneliness, he said, listening to music, reading his Bible and praying.

Perez said he has spent his whole life working hard; has worked landscaping and farm jobs across Massachusetts and northern Connecticut, but now the family’s primary income stream is Gonzalez’s $11-an-hour factory job. That doesn’t begin to cover rent, bills and the expenses of having four children, although Perez has begun teaching Spanish classes at the church.

Perez and Gonzalez are not alone in facing the possibility of deportation ripping them apart, and they are very aware of other immigrants in the same situation. ICE has arrested more than 143,000 people in the United States this fiscal year, a 25 percent increase over last year.

“I hope this ends soon. I know others are going through this as well,” Gonzalez said.

Christmas is a time of hope for many people. Despite Perez’s solitary and uncertain situation, the family is keeping faith in God, and hope that a solution to their predicament is near. Perez said he thinks about those others, and hopes that his case animates and motivates them.

“When darkness comes, you want the sun to rise quickly. But it’s not like that,” Gonzalez said. “I just hope this ends soon and that I can have my family together in the house.”

The couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, said she only wants one thing for Christmas: “My dad to come back to the house.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.