Samuel Oliver-Bruno, a twenty-year U.S. resident who spent the past eleven months taking sanctuary from immigration enforcement in a Durham church, has been deported to Mexico.

“Removal complete; he is no longer in ICE custody,” ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox old the INDY via email around 10 p.m. Thursday. “He was removed from the U.S. to Mexico about an hour ago.”

Over the past week, supporters, including congressmen and Durham city, county and school board officials, had rallied around Oliver-Bruno, hoping to convince federal officials to have him released from ICE custody. Oliver-Bruno was arrested the day after Thanksgiving in what Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, in a press conference Thursday, called “a surprise attack by ICE” during a biometrics appointment with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Morrisville.

#Durham mayor Steve Schewel speaking now about Samuel Oliver-Bruno:

— Indy Week (@indyweek) November 29, 2018

Oliver-Bruno’s son told the crowd at Thursday’s press conference via phone that immigration agents had been waiting in line like they were immigrants filling out paperwork when one called out his father’s name and tackled him. As officers dragged Oliver-Bruno to a van outside, supporters encircled the vehicle, trying to stop it from leaving. Twenty-seven people were arrested.

Oliver-Bruno had lived for eleven months at CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham, hoping to be shielded from deportation by ICE’s so-called “sensitive locations” policy, which directs agents to generally avoid enforcement activities at places like schools, hospitals and churches.

CityWell Pastor Cleve May told the INDY Thursday that in that time, Oliver-Bruno became part of the church family. A skilled handyman, he helped make modifications to the church to accommodate his stay, May said, and as a Duke Divinity student, he led Bible classes and introduced the congregation to new songs that are now part of its repertoire. When Oliver-Bruno moved into the church, his teacher at Duke brought classes to him, students and all.  

This is Cleve May, a pastor at CityWell, where Samuel lived. May was one of two dozen people arrested protesting Samuel’s detention.

— Indy Week (@indyweek) November 29, 2018

Oliver-Bruno came to the U.S. in 1994 and lived in Greenville. He was issued final removal orders in 2014 after being caught trying to illegally re-enter the U.S. after visiting sick relatives in Mexico. Among the reasons he resisted deportation was to care for his wife, who has a heart condition that supporters say has been worsened by the saga of her husband’s detention. CityWell is collecting donations for the family.

“Samuel’s family, church community and supporting neighbors are grieved at Samuel being ripped from his family, church and community. Many among family and friends are traumatized by the violence employed by ICE in this detainment and deportation operation,” CityWell said in a statement Thursday night. “… Moreover, Samuel’s supporters are deeply unsettled by the collusion between USCIS and ICE to utilize a supposedly legitimate immigration process as bait for entrapment and ambush. This action undermines our democracy and threatens the credibility of U.S. agencies and government processes. Samuel’s family, church and supporting community condemn these actions and demand accountability for all immigration and law enforcement agencies that conspired in this operation.”

Read CityWell’s full statement: