Yesterday, hundreds of supporters marched through downtown Iowa City to demand the release of Max Villatoro, a beloved pastor and community leader facing imminent deportation.
The rally, organized by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, was led by Pastor Villatoro’s wife Gloria and drew more than 200 community members bearing signs and chanting in support of the family.
Last night’s march follows weeks of media attention and overwhelming national support for Pastor Villatoro, including a delivery of more than 40,000 petitions to ICE demanding a stop to his deportation.
Late last week, a heartbroken Gloria and her four children also recorded a personal plea to President Barack Obama to personally intervene in the case, and, in turn, members of the Iowa City community were inspired to record dozens of videos of their own asking the same.
“It’s been very hard to give a word to my kids and tell them this is going to end soon,” Gloria told the Des Moines Register yesterday. “I trust that God will do something, but I don’t have words to say to my kids. All I can say is that we need to pray.”
Despite community support for Pastor Villatoro, ICE still insists this father of four U.S. citizens is a priority for deportation.
Pastor Villatoro was detained more than two weeks ago due to a misdemeanor DUI he received when he was only 24 years old. Now in his 40s, Pastor Villatoro is a respected religious leader in Iowa City and should be the kind of person who gets a second chance, not deportation.
There are clear factors in Pastor Villatoro’s case indicating that he is not a threat to national security, border security, or public safety. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s own memos have made it clear — immigrants like Pastor Villatoro should not be an enforcement priority.
“We want to continue to show our support for pastor Max and the Villatoro family and call for Max’s liberation and for him to be released,” said Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, a pastor of community life for the First Mennonite Church.