Triangle leaders on Thursday applauded President Joe Biden’s overnight announcement of a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

Hours after President Biden signed the executive order, an immigrant pastor who has been in sanctuary at a Durham religious center for more than three years will reunite with his family, without fear of deportation.

The newly-sworn in president also announced “a comprehensive review of ICE enforcement practices and a new enforcement strategy that would make the vast majority of immigrants ineligible for deportation,” activist group Siembra NC stated in a press release.

Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece briefly interrupted the council’s Thursday afternoon work session to break the news to his fellow members.

“I’m sorry Mr. Mayor, but late-breaking announcement that came across my attention and I want to make sure that we all know about,” Reece said. “Under the category that elections have consequences, the new presidential administration has enacted a 100-day moratorium on deportations. And as a result of that policy, at some point early tomorrow Pastor José Chicas will be leaving the School of Conversion here in Durham where he has been [in sanctuary] for about three and a half years, to be moving back to Raleigh to be with his family.”

“I think that is the first step, the first new step in a path to making sure that Pastor Chicas stays here in this country with his family,” Reece added.

As previously reported by the INDY in October, Chicas is a native of El Salvador who has lived inside the school that sits on the grounds of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Durham since June 27, 2017.

After more than one thousand days of isolation, he told the INDY that his chance of returning home to his family in Raleigh was riding on Election Day. If the Florida-man-formerly-known-as-the-president had been re-elected, Chicas could’ve been deported to El Salvador until at least 2030.

Like Reece said, elections have consequences.

“The United States is a nation that has been so blessed by God,” he told the INDY in October, “but this nation has been hurt by the evil of those who govern it.”

Before entering sanctuary, Chicas lived in the U.S. for more than 32 years. As a 17-year-old, he was a soldier with the Salvadoran military, which was backed by the U.S. during the Reagan and Carter administrations during a long and devastating civil war against communist rebels. On February 6, 1985, Chicas fled on foot in search of political asylum in the United States.

Mayor Steve Schewel called Reece’s announcement “great news.”

“I remember when we had José Chicas’s family at, I think my first state of the city [address],” Schewel said. “And that was a long time ago. So that is wonderful news. That’s great.”

Councilwoman Javiera Caballero, the city’s first Hispanic council member, celebrated the news. So did her colleague Mark-Anthony Middleton.

“I know I speak for scores of people when I say how happy I am for my brother and my colleague, Pastor Chicas,” said Middleton, who is an ordained pastor. “He gets to be able to join his family. So that is just wonderful, wonderful, overwhelming news. That’s a gift. That’s a gift to hear that. Not only for him but for all of the families that’ll be impacted by that.”

Siembra NC, the Latinx advocacy group, noted that in addition to Biden’s three executive actions on immigration and his presentation of the U.S. Citizenship Act to Congress, would create a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. With Democrats now in control of the U.S. House and Senate (the latter as of Wednesday afternoon with the swearing in of Georgia’s new Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff), its passage seems more likely.

Biden also signed an executive order strengthening the DACA program.

“This is what we’ve been calling for, and this is why we registered so many people to vote, and why we knocked so many doors during the early voting period,” said Siembra NC leader Kelly Morales, who participated in conversations with the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice transition officials regarding recommended policy changes.

“Latinx communities and Black communities overwhelmingly voted for a change in federal policies, and on Day 1 we got an important down payment on those changes. These actions will help millions of people,” Morales added.

Like Chicas, Siembra NC leaders say the new deportation priorities will have the immediate effect of preventing the separation of Tar Heel families.  The advocacy group reports that of the dozens of North Carolina immigrants detained by ICE last year who contacted the organization for support, none had been convicted of an aggravated felony, which would be a requirement under the new guidelines to trigger a deportation. 

“This order would have kept my husband out of detention a year ago. I’m glad fewer families will have to go through what we did,” said Catalina Muñoz, of Raleigh, whose husband was detained by ICE on his way to work in January 2020. 

As previously reported by the INDY, during the lead up to the election, Siembra worked closely with national partner Mijente in advocating for the moratorium.

Mijente Director Marisa Franco participated in the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force that helped craft the Democratic National Committee and Biden Campaign immigration policy platform.

And the community went out to make their voices heard in the ballot box when Siembra NC registered and mobilized thousands of Latinx voters to participate in the election. In the Georgia runoff earlier this month, Mijente helped propel Latinx turnout that delivered the Senate majority to Democrats.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to

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