COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Two months after the All Souls Unitarian declared itself as a sanctuary church it’s now home to a man from El Salvador. He fled to America to avoid one of the biggest gangs in his home country.
Only News Channel 13’s cameras were allowed inside his temporary home today, Cinthia Maldonado has the story.
Elmer Peña is the first immigrant to claim sanctuary at All Souls to avoid deportation.
He arrived to Colorado in 2001 and after many years of establishing a life here he hopes this last-ditch tactic will help him stay with his family and avoid being arrested by ICE.
For 37 year old Elmer Peña finding refuge at this church means holding off a nightmare.
"I don't want to leave; I don't want to leave my family [and] my children behind because I know I’m not going to see them again if I’m forced to leave. That's why I came to this church," says Elmer.
In what he describes his darkest days he's accompanied by his 3 year old son David. "My wife makes very little money, no one is ever home. My older kids are in school. He doesn't understand much of what's going on either."
Escaping El Salvador’s gangs—striving for a better life is what brought Elmer to America 18 years ago. "You want trouble with us? We're going to kill you." He says his life was threatened because he didn't want to give in to the gang life.
But years later, a minor traffic violation put him back in jeopardy. "The cop from the beginning was aggressive towards me he said that I couldn’t live in the United States since I didn't have a real U.S. I.D."
He says the officer threatened him with deportation. "He handcuffed me tight and put me inside the patrol." Elmer says a speeding ticket shouldn't erase the life he's built here.
Elmer Peña hopes his stay at All Souls will allow him to see a judge. Something he hasn't been able to do since that traffic stop in 2011.