A Charlotte immigration judge has ordered the removal of 20 immigrants from an evangelical church who were arrested on their way home from a Christian conference. The church group's attorney said they'll appeal.
Immigration Judge Barry Pettinato denied the members of El Buen Pastor Church request to reconsider a motion to throw out the case based on allegations that border agents in April 2010 stopped their vehicle through profiling. But Pettinato did not have any of the immigrants taken into custody and they will have an opportunity to appeal his ruling.
The majority of the immigrants, including five children, were granted voluntary departure, which allows them to leave on their own recognizance.
"You'll have until Nov. 21 to leave the U.S.," Judge Pettinato told the group. "If you do not leave by that date there will be significant consequences."
The attorney for the church members said he will appeal the judge's ruling with the Board of
Immigration Appeals. He said the group will be able to remain in the country while the appeal is being considered. Heroy said it can take up to two years for the board to make a decision.
Judith Tadeo, 21, said she's losing hope that she will be able to remain in the country. Holding her 2-year-old son, she said she doesn't know what she'd do if her family had to return to Mexico.
"I feel bad because I was hoping that something was going to change," Tadeo said after the hearing. "It's like a bad dream. I can't believe this is happening."
Heroy said he hopes the additional time will also give them an opportunity to seek to have the case closed based on federal guidelines introduced last month.
The Obama administration has said it would focus deportation efforts on more dangerous illegal immigrants. Those deemed to be a low priority because they pose no threat to public safety could be released. Other factors could include illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, or who have long family ties to the country.
One of the church group's attorneys, Elizabeth Simpson, said the members exemplify the kind of people the new policy is supposed to help.
The members are part of an evangelical church in Raleigh and Lumberton. According to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is helping the group, members attend church daily and dress in conservative clothing.
They were stopped in Louisiana on April 15, 2010, while returning to North Carolina from an annual church conference near Houston.