Lucio Perez, finally released after years in sanctuary, tells his story


Lucio Perez, with his daughter Lucy and his wife Dora, at a birthday party held for him during his many years of sanctuary inside First Church. Photo: First Congregational Church

Clara Lopez and Mildred Orellana

NESPA Winner: Feature Story, 2022

The Graphic, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, Amherst, MA

After three and a half years, in March of 2021, Lucio Perez finally left sanctuary at Amherst’s First Congregational Church, without the threat of being deported, and returned home to his wife Dora and their four children.

Perez left Tacaná San Marcos, Guatemala at age 17 in 1999 to make a better life for himself in the US. He found work as a landscaper and lived in Springfield, Massachusetts with his thriving family.

But a decade later, in 2009, he was charged with child abandonment after stopping at a Dunkin’ Donuts and leaving his kids in the car for a few moments while buying coffee. The charges were later dropped but this incident led ICE to monitor his movement as an undocumented person.

During Perez’s first check-in after Donald Trump’s election in 2017, he was ordered to immediately leave the country without his family and was denied a stay of deportation.

In 2017, Pastor Vicki Kemper of First Congregational Church, along with her congregation, opened their doors to shelter Perez, since ICE does not make arrests at “sensitive locations” like churches, according to The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Perez lived in a room in the church basement for all of the 3.5 years, with scheduled visits from family and the constant companionship of church members.


Read the full story here.