Son of El Salvador bishop detained by ICE in Ohio, denied asylum

January 10, 2020

[Episcopal News Service] The son of the Anglican bishop of El Salvador, who fled to the United States after being kidnapped and threatened in his home country, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in November, his father says. Now, with his request for asylum denied, he is in jail in Ohio awaiting potential deportation.

Bishop David Alvarado of the Diocese of El Salvador, which is part of the Anglican Church of Central America, said his 34-year-old son Josue Alvarado Guerra had to flee El Salvador because his life was in danger. He had been working as a taxi driver in Colón, just northwest of San Salvador, one of the most dangerous cities in the country with the world’s highest homicide rate. Hundreds of thousands have fled violence brought on by the ruthless gang wars that have raged in El Salvador and the neighboring countries since the early 1990s, many of them seeking asylum in the United States. Alvarado Guerra was “threatened, kidnapped and persecuted by one of the largest gangs operating in the country” and forced to drive them around, his father told Episcopal News Service by email.

Alvarado Guerra complained to the police, but he was no longer safe in El Salvador, so he sought refuge in the U.S., his father said. Over several years, he moved undocumented around the country for work – from Los Angeles to Denver to Sacramento and finally Ohio. It was there that he got a flat tire near Cleveland on Nov. 27, 2019. As he waited for a tow truck, the police arrived, and when they discovered he did not have proper immigration documents, he was detained.

He has been in the custody of ICE at the Seneca County Jail in Tiffin, Ohio, since then, as his petition for asylum worked its way through the courts. On Jan. 8, his petition was denied. Unless that decision is overturned by an appeal, he will likely be deported to El Salvador.

“We are sad and worried because he can be deported and he is in great danger here in the country,” Alvarado told ENS.

The Rev. Aaron Gerlach, rector of Old Trinity Episcopal Church in Tiffin, has been visiting Alvarado Guerra in jail – where he is not allowed to receive phone calls – to provide pastoral and logistical support, along with members of his congregation. Gerlach and the Rev. Margaret D’Anieri, the Diocese of Ohio’s canon for mission, attended his hearing in immigration court on Jan. 8.

“My sense is he’s been scared from day one about being deported back to El Salvador,” D’Anieri told ENS.

Various bishops have written letters of support for Alvarado Guerra, according to Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. of the Diocese of Ohio.

“We join Josue in gratitude for the support of the wider church from numerous dioceses and the Presiding Bishop’s office,” Hollingsworth said.

“I ask you first of all for your prayers to alleviate the sadness of knowing that our son is under arrest,” Alvarado wrote. “It goes without saying that we are trusting God to help us, but we also rely on people who can also help us in this situation.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.

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