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Updated Sep 5, 2014 - 9:09 am

Tempe church offers sanctuary to Guatemalan immigrant

TEMPE, Ariz. — A Tempe church offered sanctuary to a 23-year-old Guatemalan man who is facing deportation on Thursday.

Luis Lopez came to America six years ago to escape gang violence.

“I requested asylum, but they denied asylum to me, and now I’m going through deportation proceedings,” Lopez said through an interpreter.

When asked why the asylum was refused, Lopez said, “They didn’t tell me why.”

He is married to a legal permanent U.S. resident named Mayra Canales, and has worked in construction to support her and her two U.S.-born children, one of which is autistic.

Lopez has been in deportation proceedings since a minor traffic stop, but will be allowed to stay as long as he is welcomed by the University Presbyterian Church near Mill and Broadway. The church said Lopez will always be welcomed.

The church’s pastor, Eric Ledermann, wants President Barack Obama to help Lopez and other people like him.

“We are calling on the administration to do what they can to fix our broken immigration system that is tearing families apart,” he said. “There are 1,000 deportations a day, many of them mothers and fathers.”

Lopez said he’s thankful to the church for allowing him to stay.

“It’s going to affect me a lot because of my children, but this is the place where I feel safer than being at home in Guatemala right now,” he said.

Mayra and the children will be staying with relatives for now, but Ledermann said they will be allowed to visit Lopez at the church anytime they want.

Last year, 36-year-old Mexican immigrant Daniel Neyoy Ruiz took sanctuary inside of a southern Arizona church after he was ordered to leave the United States.

Like Lopez, Neyoy Ruiz also had an American-born child.

“I want to be with my family to support them in everything I can,” he said in Spanish at the time. “I want to have a voice because it’s not just me. There are a lot of people like this.”

There is no law preventing immigration agents from taking a person claiming sanctuary into custody.

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