At 17, I had three things, and three things only, on my mind: Junior Prom, my school’s winter musical, and the SATS. When Nelson Pinos was 17, he was journeying from Ecuador to the United States. And while I earned a D+ in my senior year Italian class, Pinos was becoming fluent in English so that he could survive in this strange new place.

Of Pinos’ three children, only the oldest, Kelly, speaks Spanish fluently. She is now 16 and a straight A student; and while Kelly is also thinking about prom, her perspective is vastly different than mine was. Instead of worrying about how to pull of the perfect promposal, she thinks of her father and laments, he will not be able to “take me to buy my prom dress or help me pick out the color.”

You see, 20 + years after arriving in the United States; after working for the same restaurant for 15 years, falling in love, perfecting his annual Thanksgiving yam dish, adopting a dog, and fathering three children; Pinos voluntarily turned himself into ICE. Since then, he’s met with ICE routinely and taken concrete steps towards citizenship. Then, everything changed. Out of the blue, at one of said routine ICE check-ins, Pinos was informed he had till November 30, 2017 to deport.

Nelson Pinos, however, did not leave his family or the USA. Instead, he reluctantly sought sanctuary at the Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, where he’s lived for over a year. If Nelson steps out beyond the church walls, he’ll be seized and deported. Nelson therefore can’t work, attend family gatherings, breathe fresh air, or feed his beloved dog. And he can’t comfort his younger daughter Arlly when she wakes up with nightmares. This place of God has transformed into a prison.

The effects on the family, both psychological and fiscal, are devastating. In a New York Times op-ed titled “I Don’t Understand Why People in This Country Hate Us So Much,” Kelly details using her McDonald’s savings to buy Allry shoes, and writes, “My sister asked me if some days I feel like I want to scream. And I do, but mostly I just cry.” Meanwhile, the son Brandon, just five years old, no longer calls Nelson “Dad,” and told his therapist, “I don’t like to talk about my dad because it makes me sad.”

On Wednesday, October 24, 2018 Nelson’s lawyers submitted a second stay of deportation package, which, if approved, would have allowed Nelson to go home and spend the holidays with his family. It was denied the day before Thanksgiving. Suffice to say, Nelson Pinos did not cook his infamous yams this year.

ICE officials have the ability to exercise “prosecutorial discretion.” In other words, they can pick and choose who to go after. Heart strings and humanity aside, ICE has limited resources. The organization must therefore triage their efforts, opting to pursue those that are dangerous. With no criminal record, a consistent history of paying all his taxes, and having been on the path towards citizenship; Nelson Pinos is decidedly no threat. ICE itself labeled him “low priority” for years. Even the most gung ho, anti-immigration nuts may agree that deportation efforts against Nelson Pinos are a waste our taxpayer dollars.

This Christmas, I will be with my family. I will likely be singing carols with my sister, glazing ham with my father, and making a gingerbread village with my mom. Someone will over spike the eggnog and we’ll all end up dancing to Prince. (Hey, everyone has their traditions). We will laugh and hug, and spend time together in our own home-- the home we’ve lived in for 22 years.

I’m not sure what the Pinos family has planned for this Christmas, but I do know, unless something changes, Nelson will not be able to go home. He will not be able to put Allry’s handmade ornament on the tree, or go to a store to buy his love a present. Nelson will not be able to scoop up Brandon onto his shoulders as he makes a holiday feast; and he won’t be able to sit down with Kelly “to pick colleges to apply to.”

Yet, there’s still hope. If you want to help the Pinos family, there are steps you can take:  

  1. Follow their journey on Facebook here. You can write something supportive, or stay tuned for rallies and protests to attend.
  2. Sign this petition to let the ICE Field Office handling the Pinos case, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and Rosa DeLauro know that you support Nelson Pinos and his family.
  3. Donate to the Pinos family directly here.
  4. Think about donating to the Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA), a “grassroots organization of immigrants defending labor, civil, and human rights in New Haven,” which combines legal action and advocacy to help immigrant families in the area; or support organizations closer to home with similar mission statements.
  5. Above all, remember that your voice matters. Use it to combat racism and hatred whenever you can.



** All Photos are by Eino Sierpe and can be found at the following link:

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