A western Massachusetts man who is facing deportation to Iraq was freed this week from detention. Another undocumented immigrant who has lived in the Springfield area for decades continues to reside in an Amherst church where he was given sanctuary last year.
After being locked up for seven months in the Suffolk County House of Corrections, Niberd Abdella was released earlier this week after a federal immigration judge ordered him freed, without conditions, while he fights to legally remain in the United States.
Abdella, 57, is among 1,500 Iraqi immigrants who were suddenly ordered removed from the United States after having lived here for decades. The ACLU filed a class action suit and a federal judge in Michigan over the summer stayed the deportation orders.
Buz Eisenberg, Abdella’s lawyer, said there are a number of steps he’ll take to try to keep his client in the United States permanently.
"I am hopeful, but these are not the best of times to try to make an undocumented alien legal, but I think his case is a particularly sympathetic one," said Eisenberg.
Abdella came to the United States as a teenager, living first in Chicago and later in upstate New York. He has lived in the Northampton area for the last 20 years. Eisenberg said there are compelling reasons for Abdella to have legal resident status.
" He has been in this country for 41 years since he was 16 years of age, he has no criminal record, he is married to a United States citizens, his son who serves in the U.S. Navy is a U.S. citizen, his grandchildren are U.S. citizens, his sister is a U.S.citizen and his mother and father, who both (died) when he was in prison were both United States citizens," Eisenberg said.
Ellen McShane, Abdella’s wife, said she is grateful to Eisenberg, the ACLU, and to the thousands of people in western Massachusetts who have rallied and signed petitions on her husband’s behalf.
" All these people, total strangers, who just showed up in court to support us, and I am so touched and overwhelmed at how many people are willing to do for other people and that is what is important about America: that we do love and respect each other no matter what the circumstances," McShane said.
Rose Bookbinder of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center said Abdella and his wife have been courageous in their willingness to work publicly with the local activist community.
"I think this is an example for other immigrants that while it is scary to share their stories and be public it does result in the community coming together and putting pressure on ICE does work even in the Trump era," said Bookbinder.
Another case championed by local activists will get more attention this Sunday when Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is scheduled to meet with Lucio Perez. The undocumented immigrant has taken refuge at the First Congregational Church of Amherst rather than return to Guatemala, the country he fled 20 years ago, and leave behind his wife and three children in Springfield.
" We are really hopeful that this visit could have a huge impact on Lucio's case and put pressure on ICE to release him," said Bookbinder adding " We are hoping for another win this week."
Perez, whose case is pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals, has not left the church property since he arrived there on October 19, 2017.
Current policy directs federal immigration authorities to avoid arresting people in locations including schools, hospitals, and churches.