A North Carolina Baptist church claims immigration officials entrapped a long-time church member held for deportation after applying for permission to stay in the United States due to a life-threatening medical condition.
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., held a press conference Jan.11 demanding release of Gilles Bikindou, a church member since 2006 who was arrested Jan. 9 during what he thought was a routine check-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Charlotte, N.C.
Pastor Lauren Efird said the situation is even worse due to an unspecified medical condition treated by medicine available only in the U.S. and Canada. She said Bikindou might not even make it out of the country, citing a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security revealing long waits for medical care and other concerns at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., where Bikindou is reportedly headed after being held at a county jail.
“We are concerned that ICE has shown no regard for Gilles’ rights or health in this process,” Efird said at the press conference in the church sanctuary. “If our government does not take action, Gilles will die a death by deportation, or before that, a death by detention.”
Efird said when she spoke to Bikindou by phone from the York County Detention Center, he told her he felt “trapped” by ICE officials walking him through the process of applying for a stay of removal that would protect him from deportation for at least a year.
She said Wesley Spears-Newsome, Greenwood Forest’s associate pastor of community and youth ministry, accompanied Bikindou to a meeting with assurance that he would not be detained without warning. An ICE official then called Bikindou back for a second time, alone, where he was handcuffed and told he was going to jail.
It wasn’t until the next day, Efird said, that she informed him the stay of removal was denied the same day he applied and that he was being deported.
“We demand ICE grant the stay of removal for Gilles,” Efird said. “We ask all our elected officials to do everything that they can to offer mercy and to keep our brother from dying a death by deportation.”
Efird said Bikindou joined Greenwood Forest shortly after arriving in the U.S. on an educational visa in 2004. He sought political asylum after witnessing state-sponsored violence and murder in the Republic of Congo. His asylum request was denied, but he did receive an order of supervision allowing him to work, drive and live in the U.S. that was renewed without incident until 2017.
The Trump administration has repeatedly vowed to deport immigrants living in the country illegally, and especially those guilty or accused of committing a crime. Various reports indicate, however, that the crackdown has also caught up legal immigrants like Bikindou, who stay aboveboard and try to follow the rules.
Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., appearing at the press conference representing the Alliance of Baptists, said America’s treatment of Bikindou is symptomatic of a country “that has lost her way.”
“Mr. Bikindou … came to this country seeking asylum from a government of corruption and violence,” she said. “Now, I fear, in the way Mr. Bikindou is being treated by our government, we are becoming the kind of government he fled. How can we pretend to be a God-fearing nation and turn our backs on the most vulnerable of God’s children — those needing our compassion, our protection our justice-love?”
“Our current president, and many of our elected officials, ran on a platform of Christian values and principles, claiming that we are a Christian nation,” Petty said. “Well, it seems that they have gotten a severe case of biblical amnesia. It seems they have forgotten the story of the Good Samaritan and the lesson of what it means to be a neighbor. It seems they have forgotten the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It seems they have forgotten what God requires: to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. It seems that they have forgotten that the Holy Family, and in particular the person they call their Savior, were immigrants who had to flee the rule of a dictator.”
Bikindou’s detention comes during a busy time for immigration enforcement. On Wednesday immigration agents raided 98 7-Eleven stores across the country, netting 21 arrests. Media called it the biggest crackdown on a company suspected of hiring undocumented workers since Trump took office.
On Tuesday, a federal judge in California temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s plan to phase out DACA, saving for now a program that shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Jan. 8 the end of a program that has allowed about 200,000 people from El Salvador to live and work in the United States for nearly two decades.
Just before Christmas, a federal judge in Washington state blocked parts of the administration’s travel ban that limits entry into the United States by refugees from several majority Muslim nations.