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Updated Sep 5, 2014 - 9:09 am

Tempe church offers sanctuary to Guatemalan immigrant

Luis Lopez was offered sanctuary at a Tempe, Ariz. church on Thursday. (KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A Tempe church offered sanctuary to a 23-year-old Guatemalan man who is facing deportation on Thursday.

Luis Lopez came to America six years ago to escape gang violence.

"I requested asylum, but they denied asylum to me, and now I'm going through deportation proceedings," Lopez said through an interpreter.

When asked why the asylum was refused, Lopez said, "They didn't tell me why."

He is married to a legal permanent U.S. resident named Mayra Canales, and has worked in construction to support her and her two U.S.-born children, one of which is autistic.

Lopez has been in deportation proceedings since a minor traffic stop, but will be allowed to stay as long as he is welcomed by the University Presbyterian Church near Mill and Broadway. The church said Lopez will always be welcomed.

The church's pastor, Eric Ledermann, wants President Barack Obama to help Lopez and other people like him.

"We are calling on the administration to do what they can to fix our broken immigration system that is tearing families apart," he said. "There are 1,000 deportations a day, many of them mothers and fathers."

Lopez said he's thankful to the church for allowing him to stay.

"It's going to affect me a lot because of my children, but this is the place where I feel safer than being at home in Guatemala right now," he said.

Mayra and the children will be staying with relatives for now, but Ledermann said they will be allowed to visit Lopez at the church anytime they want.

Last year, 36-year-old Mexican immigrant Daniel Neyoy Ruiz took sanctuary inside of a southern Arizona church after he was ordered to leave the United States.

Like Lopez, Neyoy Ruiz also had an American-born child.

"I want to be with my family to support them in everything I can," he said in Spanish at the time. "I want to have a voice because it's not just me. There are a lot of people like this."

There is no law preventing immigration agents from taking a person claiming sanctuary into custody.

About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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