Members of a North Carolina Baptist church and other supporters called for the release of a church member headed for deportation in a prayer vigil Jan. 29 outside the building where immigration officials unexpectedly detained him during a routine check-in visit Jan. 9.
Members and supporters of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., delivered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition asking the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Charlotte to grant a stay of removal for Gilles Bikindou, a faithful church member who has lived legally in the United States since 2004.
Pastor Lauren Efird said she spoke to Bikindou — who is at a privately owned ICE prison in Georgia — the day before. He told her he had not yet received medicine for a life-threatening condition that his doctor says he needs in order to survive. Unless government officials act, Efird said, Bikindou will “die a death by deportation.”
Efird say Bikindou joined Greenwood Forest Baptist Church not long after arriving in the U.S. legally in 2004 with an educational visa from the Republic of Congo. He lost funding for his studies when he refused to lie under oath about murders he witnessed back home, the pastor said.
The government turned down Bikindou’s request for political asylum but allowed him to live, work and drive in the U.S. under an order of supervision requiring that he check in periodically. The order was routinely renewed, Efird said, until 2017.
Bikindou was in the process of applying for a stay of removal, which similarly could be renewed annually, when ICE agents nabbed him Jan. 9, despite previous assurance that he would not be arrested without warning.
“Upon changes in immigration policy under the current administration, ICE put Mr. Bikindou on track for deportation,” Efird said. “He did not break any rules, he has kept every appointment with ICE he was asked to attend, and he has been a productive worker in our economy, a law-abiding citizen in our state, a devoted Sunday school member and a devout worshipper at our church.”
Efird said church members “are heartbroken and angry” about Bikindou’s detention, reminding government officials about Jesus’ warning of judgment based on treatment of “the least of these.”
“When ICE trapped Gilles in Charlotte, they trapped Jesus,” Efird said. “When Gilles was throw into prison and denied his medical care, Christ himself was imprisoned and denied treatment.”
“The gospel is abundantly clear that what our country does to Gilles, it does unto our Lord Jesus Christ,” she said. “We won’t stand by and let our brother be treated this way. We won’t stand by and let Jesus be treated this way.”
Benjamin Boswell, senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, participated in the rally on behalf of local clergy and the Alliance of Baptists.
“We are deeply troubled by what takes place here, at this office, and I think all citizens of Charlotte — and especially all people of faith and good conscience — should be troubled by what’s taking place here at this ICE office,” Boswell said.
Boswell led a prayer asking God to “cure our nation from the scourge of xenophobia.”
“Our leaders are greedy and impotent children concerned with nothing but their own power and well-being,” he said. “They have no interest in making sure America is safe but are solely interested in making sure America stays white.”
Efird called on the U.S. government “to remember the values that it aspires to: the values of being a safe place for refugees, a place of liberty and justice for all.”