Leaders of Pacific Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a year-old Southern California church movement called “Matthew 25/Mateo 25” have recently secured the release of a Guatemalan immigrant pastor who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last summer.

Pastor Noe Carias entered ICE headquarters, accompanied by his wife and children, in late-summer. Though he had been granted permission by ICE in prior years (called a “stay of removal”) to remain in the United States with permission, on this day he was carried off in handcuffs to the Adelanto Detention Center.

A small crowd of Matthew 25/Mateo 25 leaders from throughout Southern California and the Presbytery of the Pacific began gathering daily for Spirit-filled prayers in front of the Federal Building and ICE headquarters in Los Angeles to press for Carias’ release from detention.  

ICE classified Noe Carias as “a repeat immigration violator who has assumed multiple identities and nationalities over the years in order to evade federal immigration enforcement” when, in fact, Pastor Carias came to the United States as a teenager fleeing trauma and violence.

Praying Pastor Noe into his check-in with ICE before he was taken away in handcuffs

Praying Pastor Noe into his check-in with ICE before he was taken away in handcuffs.

He was kidnapped as a teenager in Guatemala, fled his captors, made his way to the U.S./Mexico border, and after three attempts to cross the border into the U.S., arrived in the United States undocumented.  He became a Christian, a pastor, started a construction business, married a U.S. citizen, had two children.

He had a case pending in court for his immigration status, a process which takes many years. He was transparent about his undocumented status and went to annual ICE check-ins to receive what is called a stay of removal, or permission to be the United States, by ICE.

Matthew 25/Mateo 25 – which describes itself as “a small, growing, bi-lingual, neo-evangelical, post-denominational, non-partisan church movement for justice led by young adult faith leaders in Los Angeles” -- held prayer vigils in front of the detention center; launched faith-based, positive faith-rooted letter-writing campaigns; called ICE Field Directors and prayed for them; participated in marches; held press conferences and interviewed with CNN; and organized legislative visits with local U.S. Congressional leaders.

Meanwhile, in the Adelanto Detention Center, Pastor Carias’ health was declining rapidly from the inhumane conditions there. He remained hopeful, however, thanking all who advocated on his behalf, saying that he believed “God is going to do something wonderful in this moment.”

Matthew 25 Delegation at the office of CA Stated Rep. Nanette Diaz-Barragán.

Matthew 25 Delegation at the office of CA Stated Rep. Nanette Diaz-Barragán.

Two months after his detention, Pastor Carias was released and restored to his family, church and community in Los Angeles.

“When the church is awake, justice is done,” said the Rev. Heidi Worthen Gamble, Mission Catalyst for Pacific Presbytery. “The church is being called to awaken its prophetic voice in this time of deep darkness in our country. We have to get over our fear of sounding too political. This is not about partisan politics,” she said, “this is about saving people’s lives.”

Gamble continued: “This is about a courageous Gospel witness in a time of fear, hatred and openly racist policies and rhetoric. Christians are called to go outside the walls of our churches and outside our insular ways of thinking into the streets and into the halls of power on behalf of those whose lives are at stake. This is not an option. We must do this church. We must.”

Pacific Presbytery already has several Matthew 25/Mateo 25-related churches and a Matthew 25/Mateo 25 task force. Individuals and churches take a pledge to protect and defend vulnerable people in Jesus’ name. To find out more about the Matthew 25/Mateo 25 movement, visit www.matthew25socal.org.

Matthew 25/Mateo 25 is now moving into intensive advocacy for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), advocating for the Dream Act. They ask all Presbyterians to join in the effort.

 Video - Pastor Noe's Story