Pastor Jose Rivera arrived at Living Hope Church in Willmar, Minnesota, about four years ago. From the altar's perch he could discern who the regulars were and who was just visiting.
The young father and husband, Rivera quickly noticed, religiously attended Sunday service with his wife and little girl in tow. Rivera would come to see the same man every week without fail, in attendance by himself at the Wednesday men's group meetings.
"He was so quiet," says Rivera. "He would be in these groups, at these meetings, and nobody would know his name. He just didn't speak much. I think he kept to himself like that because, it is my opinion, he felt the best way for him to be in contact with God."
In Willmar, where about one in four are Latino, the pastor would get to know more about the quiet one. His name was Melvin Siu. He'd lived in and around Willmar for about 10 years. The undocumented Siu had originally come from Guatemala in 2001. He worked at the Jennie-O Turkey facility in town. Siu and his wife had two children of their own. Siu was the father of two more from a previous relationship.
Rivera shared time with Siu when the men's group volunteered to fix beaten up homes that needed TLC. Rivera would spot Siu on the soccer pitch when the Willmar church was pitted against another. And, of course, there Siu was with his wife, daughter, and infant born in the past year, eyes closed and hearts raised every Sunday in prayer.
"At work, at home, or at church, those are [the] three places Melvin always is," Rivera says. "He's a good man, a good father, and a good husband. I wanted all the people in my church to be like Melvin."
But Siu might not be coming back to Living Hope. Ever.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested Siu at the Jennie-O facility last week. According news reports, there's been a standing deportation order out for him for 16 years. Siu, who Rivera says has no criminal record, is currently in custody at the Sherburne County Jail. When federal authorities plan on deporting Siu is unknown.
ICE officials in Washington, D.C. could not be reached for immediate comment.
Different people have visited Siu in jail. He insists he'll be murdered if he returns to his homeland, which in recent years has been plagued by political instability and narco turf wars. According to Rivera, Siu's fears are based on the fact that another person from his hometown was recently deported from Illinois to Guatemala and was murdered on the day of his arrival.
Living Hope hosted a vigil over the weekend. ISAIAH, a spiritual-based group consisting over one hundred congregations in Minnesota, is working with Siu. It plans to ask the government to grant Siu political asylum.
"This is a hard situation," Rivera says. "It is a sad situation. What we must do now is pray."
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