Hector Villanueva, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Roca in Siler City, N.C., found out last Friday he won’t be deported to Mexico.
That’s cause for celebration on several fronts: the legal system did the right thing; a church can keep its pastor; a community can keep a valued member; and most of all, a family can keep its husband and father.
Hector began making the news in August 2010 after he was arrested by agents at his home and in front of his wife, Martha, and their children (they have six).
Hector, born in Mexico and brought to the United States when he was 3 by his parents, was already a legal permanent resident due to a 1986 law.
In 2007, he applied for U.S. citizenship, and that process turned up Hector’s 1995 conviction for trying to cash a check that wasn’t his when he was homeless and addicted to drugs.
Hector served 16 months and became a Christian while in a California prison. After getting out and finding a church, he met Martha and eventually was ordained to the ministry.
In 2006, they and their family moved to North Carolina to start a church in an area with many Hispanics, some of whom work in two nearby poultry processing plants.
That’s when Hector applied for citizenship, which led to the arrest and frightening prospect of deportation.
We spent time with them at their home in Pittsboro, at their church in Siler City, at Saturday morning basketball games with their kids, at a cookout for the church youth group.
We asked them what they would do if deportation were the order. We asked them who had been helpful. We asked them about faith.
Martha said one of her favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 40:31: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”
“I believe that we face a challenging time ahead,” Martha said then, “but I believe God will be with us, and he’s going to carry us through.”
Hector said the passage that spoke to him the most about immigrants is Malachi 3:5: “‘So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
On the heels of last Friday’s news, we give thanks – for Judge Pettinato, who sat in Charlotte’s immigration court and considered the evidence. For the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, which rallied around the Villanuevas and mustered all kinds of support. For the Villanuevas themselves, who never lost faith.
But we also remember those still defrauded, oppressed and deprived by systems and individuals. They’re the ones mentioned in Malachi.
Some of them live and work in your community, some in mine. And some sit in the pews at Iglesia Bautista La Roca – a church that still has its pastor.