In the last week people and congregations across Mennonite Church USA and the country have written letters and emails, signed petitions, and rallied to support Pastor Max Villatoro and protest the separation of families.
Update, March 13, 2015:
URGENT ACTION ALERT: After a week-long, nationwide mobilization against the arrest of local Mennonite Pastor Max Villatoro, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to be unmoved by the intensifying pressure from the community.
Earlier today, Pastor Max’s family and the Iowa community were outraged to learn that he had been moved to a series of different detention cities without warning and without explanation. Currently, Pastor Max is being held at a detention facility in Alexandria, LA, but he could be on a plane back to Honduras at any moment.
Since it is the weekend and after hours, calls to ICE will no longer be received. Our best recourse now is to appeal to the media for broader coverage of Pastor Max’s situation. Please consider calling the CNN news tip line and leaving a message sharing Max’s story. Dial 404-827-1500 and choose option 1. You will be prompted to leave a message.
Please continue to pray for Pastor Max and his family.
From Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA executive director: ” “ICE asserts that Pastor Max is being deported because he presents a public safety threat. This could not be further from the truth. Pastor Max is a respected community leader, devoted husband, and loving father of four. How is justice being served by yanking him away from his family?”
Here’s an update on Pastor Max’s status, from Central Plains Mennonite Conference:
In just a few short days, we’ve seen a groundswell of momentum across the country. People in all 50 states are outraged and more than 25,000 people signed a MoveOn.org petition to ICE demanding that Pastor Max be immediately returned to his family and congregation. Of those, more than 800 are clergy and faith leaders from congregations across the country who believe that a pastor belongs with their flock. Today, at 11 a.m. Central, there will be a press event taking place in Des Moines, Iowa, where this petition and accompanying signatures will be presented on Pastor Max’s behalf.
Pastor Max is exactly the kind of individual that President Obama said ICE should not be deporting. As a pastor, community leader and father of U.S. citizen children, Max clearly presents no public safety or security threat. He should be at home with his wife Gloria, his four kids – Anthony, Edna, Angela, and Aileen, and his congregation at the First Mennonite Church in Iowa City.
Pastor Max fled Honduras and came to the U.S. He had what is known as “temporary protected status” and unfortunately became the victim of a fraudulent immigration lawyer and lost his legal status. Pastor Max has been a resident of the US for more than 20 years and our broken immigration system has failed him and his family, but ICE can easily fix this.
ICE has the authority and discretion to easily grant Pastor Max a stay of removal. The Texas judge has not stopped the new enforcement priorities and ICE has full authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion in cases just like this. Pastor Max is clearly a low priority for enforcement and must be allowed to stay here in Iowa City with his family. He shouldn’t be deported before his case for relief could even be considered.
Pastor Max is the first to admit that he has made mistakes more than 15 years ago – and he is a perfect example of the transforming power of faith. He took responsibility for his actions, made amends and has followed the call of God to become a pastor to his community. Past mistakes shouldn’t tear away a father from their children. This is not who we are as Americans, and certainly not who we are as the faith community. We believe in justice and also in grace – and that what is best for communities across this country is whole and unified families.
See below for two letters of support from Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA executive director, and David Boshart, executive conference minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference.
Dear brothers and sisters gathered in Cedar Rapids,
Tonight I join you in praying for our brother Max Villatoro, his family, church and friends. We suffer with you in the pain of a cruel surprise, when government forces tore our brother in Christ away from his family in the early morning hours and threw him into jail for not having proper immigration documents. We pray that even in this trying time, the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
In this season of Lent, we remember that Jesus’s path of peace sometimes led to confronting the oppressive systems of His time. An immigration system that detains people like Max and separates families is not merely broken; it is morally bankrupt and must be challenged. Therefore, we pray that God may work in the hearts of those who have the power to secure Max’s release, and make it possible for him to continue his good work of church leadership in this country. In that vein, I urge members of Mennonite Church USA to contact the appropriate offices in Iowa to call for Max Villatoro’s immediate release.
Brothers and sisters of Central Plains, I am grateful to you for your show of support for Max and his family. Your faithfulness and love encourages us all to pray for peace and work for justice in our own communities. May we all follow the example you’ve set.
Ervin R. Stutzman
Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA
I greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It grieves me that I am out of the country and unable to be with you for this important time of prayer for our brother, Max Villatoro, Gloria, his wife, their children Anthony, Edna, Angela, Aileen and their congregation Torre Fuerte. Know that I am with you in spirit.
As some of you may know, I have been serving as Max’s mentor during his period of licensing as he prepares for ordination. I have walked closely with Max during these past years. Indeed I have learned a great deal from him in terms of how one places one’s whole life in the hands of God as a servant of Jesus whatever one is facing. I have come to know Max as a man of integrity, humility and wisdom. Even the implication of Max as someone who is need of detention is unthinkable to me.
As we join in prayer for Max, I also call us to pray for his captors. With Jesus we pray, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” In Max’s detention, may we understand that our struggle is not with flesh and blood. We struggle against the “principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) It is these powers that blind those who live by fear in this age, who deny the power of the cross to remove all the barriers of hostility that divide people. In being deceived by these powers, they deny that in the cross, Jesus accomplished everything necessary for the reconciliation of all things. The grain of the universe is not moving toward nationalistic isolationism. World history is moving irreversibly toward a time when all tribes and peoples and languages and nations are joined together as one people before the throne of God and the One seated at his right hand. This vision reveals the manifold wisdom of God for all people.
So you are gathered to pray in defiance of the principalities, powers and rulers of this age who have masked this truth. We pray that God will deliver Max with a strong arm, with signs and wonders, so that all will see our witness to the will of God revealed through the power of the cross to the rulers of this age. We pray for Max’s release as a sign that our God reigns over every power on the earth, under the earth, and above the earth, forever.
Executive Conference Minster
We continue to pray for Pastor Max, the Villatoro family, Torre Fuerte Iglesia Menonita and the community in Iowa City. For more information on what you can do to support Pastor Max, visit Central Plains Mennonite Conference and please continue to pray.