Iowa City resident and Mennonite pastor Max Villatoro has been deported to his home country of Honduras despite widespread protest, according to a news brief released this afternoon by the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ).
David Leopold, Villatoro’s lawyer, received the following confirmation email from ICE officials, according to the CWJ:
Good afternoon. This is to confirm that your client Mr. Villatoro was removed to Honduras today. He has landed. Thank you.
Villatoro, a father of four and pastor at the First Mennonite Church in Iowa City, was arrested on March 3 during a nationwide sweep conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, entitled “Operation Cross-check.”
His arrest, which was the result of two previous convictions in 1999, prompted outrage both locally and across the nation, with friends, family and immigration reform advocates speaking out on Villatoro’s behalf.
Prior to his deportation, a petition calling for the pastor’s release received more than 20,000 signatures from all 50 states. Several major Mennonite organizations, including the Mennonite Central Committee and the Central Plains Mennonite Conference, have remained vocal supporters of Villatoro as well, organizing letter-writing campaigns and providing continued updates on the pastor’s status.
In Iowa City, meanwhile, advocates organized a March 5 vigil at the Linn County Jail in support of Villatoro, in addition to a Ped Mall march on March 17 that drew more than 200 supporters.
The CWJ, which has advocated heavily on Villatoro’s behalf since his March 3 arrest, released the following statement:
Over the last few weeks, hundreds of people from Iowa City’s churches, labor unions, and community groups attended rallies, made phone calls, and signed petitions in support of Max and we are so thankful for this support. We will continue to support Max and his family in this very difficult time.
Our nation has just torn a pastor from his congregation, a father from his four young children, a loving husband from his wife, and a gentle leader from the countless people he assisted day after day. Pastor Max was a benefit to our community, not a threat. Now we’ve placed his life in jeopardy by sending him to one of the world’s most dangerous countries. We pray for his safety and our hearts go out to his family.
We hope this heartfelt struggle for Pastor Max will propel even more people to pressure our elected officials to change these barbaric laws. Families like Max’s are separated every day because our nation refuses to fix our immigration system. We urge all of our members, allies, and community members to join the fight with the millions of other people across the country for a fair immigration reform.