US frees Guatemalan teen, holds off on deportation - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

US frees Guatemalan teen, holds off on deportation

taken at the Morrow County Sheriff's Office (Source: Wicks Family) taken at the Morrow County Sheriff's Office (Source: Wicks Family)

CINCINNATI (AP) - An 18-year-old Guatemalan native facing deportation said he is thankful to God and his supporters after his release Friday from a federal holding facility and hopes he will be able to remain in the United States.

Supporters of Bernard Pastor, of the Cincinnati area, had staged rallies, demonstrations and online campaigns in an effort to halt his deportation to a country he left at age 3. Pastor was detained last month by police after failing to produce a driver's license following an auto accident and was taken into custody by federal immigration officials.

Pastor told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after his release that he had trouble believing it when he was told he was going to be freed. "I was speechless at first," he said. "But I never gave up on my faith, and I have always known that God was in control," he said.

 Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to comment Friday other than to confirm the release and that the case was put on hold.

The past few weeks in the holding facility were not too bad, Pastor said. "The only difficult day was my dad's birthday when I had to call him to say happy birthday," he said. Pastor, a top student and soccer player at his former high school, saw his life change drastically after police discovered he was an illegal immigrant.

He was jailed, and his removal from this country ordered because his father's claim to political asylum - saying he faced persecution in Guatemala - was denied by a federal judge several years ago Pastor, who considers himself an American, speaks little Spanish and hardly knows anyone in Guatemala.

His family's whereabouts haven't been made public since his arrest. Immigration officials held off on deporting Pastor after two Ohio Democrats in Congress, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Steve Driehaus, intervened. But officials said he was in this country illegally and was a citizen of Guatemala.

Pastor's attorney, David Leopold, said that the fight to prevent his client's deportation is not over. "Officials did what was right today, but we need to fix the broken immigration system," said Leopold, who heads the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Leopold was headed to Washington for a scheduled Senate vote on the proposed DREAM Act. The legislation would provide a path to legal status for some illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 and join the military or attend college.

Backers have called Pastor a poster child for the proposed legislation. Opponents say passing the legislation would encourage more illegal immigration at a time when many Americans are looking for jobs.

Leo Pierson, the Ohio state director of civil rights for the League of United Latin American Citizens, picked up Pastor upon his release and was flying with him to Washington to lend support to the bill. "I have always believed that reform will come," said Pastor, who also planned to see his family as soon as possible.

Pierson said he called Pastor's father, a Pentecostal minister, to tell him of his son's release. "His father just gasped and said 'Thank God' in Spanish," Pierson said. "You could just hear the release of all the tension that had built up come out in that gasp."

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