Undocumented immigrant, father of leukemia patient, takes refuge in Phoenix church

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Jesus Berrones
Jesus  Berrones,  who  was  brought to the U.S. as a toddler, has received sanctuary at a Phoenix church while fighting deportation. CBS NEWS

A father facing deportation is taking refuge this morning inside a Phoenix church, which has opened its doors to provide sanctuary. Jesus Berrones is now living inside.

With a five-year-old son battling leukemia, and a wife who is five months pregnant, Berrones is pleading with ICE not to deport him a third time.

He has been ordered to surrender to immigration officers today.

“I will fight to stay here,” Berrones said. 

His son Jayden is so scared his father will get deported, he refuses to leave his side at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.

The five-year-old’s leukemia treatments are too toxic for his mother to handle. “My wife cannot give him the pills because she’s pregnant,” Berrones said.

Berrones is his family’s sole breadwinner, and the U.S. is the only country he’s ever known; his parents brought him here as a toddler in 1989.

Now 30, Berrones doesn’t meet the requirements of a so-called “Dreamer.” To even apply for a green card, he would first have to leave the U.S. for 10 years.

Berrones said, “I don’t have DUI. I haven’t killed nobody.”

“There has to be a price to pay, right?” asked CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez.

“Yes.”

“What would you say to someone who doesn’t agree with you staying?” Bojorquez asked.

“They don’t like our people, Mexicans.”

According to Berrones, he was once caught driving without a license. He’s been deported twice, in 2006 and 2010.  Each time, he came back illegally, even making the dangerous crossing through the Arizona desert, to be with his wife and five children, who are all U.S. citizens.

Sonia Berrones, five months pregnant, now worries about finding a job to make ends meet.

“His kids need him; I need him,” she said.

Bojorquez asked, “Have you thought about what it would be like to have to say goodbye to him?”

She sobbed: “It’s going to be hard.”

On Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied Berrones’ latest attempt to stay. His case is still under review.

Rev. Ken Heintzelman opened his church doors to Berrones on Friday.

Bojorquez said, “Some would say you were harboring a criminal.”

“He shouldn’t be prosecuted,” replied Rev. Heintzelman. “He should be lifted up, used as an example of what it means to be a father.”

ICE declined to comment to “CBS This Morning” for this story.

This is not the first time this church has housed an undocumented immigrant; six other people have reportedly sought shelter here since 2014. ICE agents could legally enter the church with a warrant to seize Berrones, but the agency typically stays away from houses of worship, because it considers them “sensitive” places.

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