Mennonite Church USA officials are requesting support for the Honduran pastor of a Mennonite church in Iowa City facing deportation after being arrested by immigration agents March 3.
Max Villatoro, pastor of Iglesia Menonita Torre Fuerte (First Mennonite Church), was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at 6:30 a.m. at his home. He and his wife, Gloria — both credentialed pastors at Torre Fuerte — have four children, all U.S. citizens.
Central Plains Mennonite Conference said Villatoro was taken to the Linn County jail in Cedar Rapids, where he was awaiting transportation to Honduras.
Central Plains executive conference minister David Boshart sent out a call to prayer March 4.
Citing Eph. 6:12, Boshart wrote that Christ’s followers struggle against “powers that blind those who live by fear in this age, who deny the power of the cross to remove all the barriers of hostility that divide people. In being deceived by these powers, they deny that in the cross, Jesus accomplished everything necessary for the reconciliation of all things.”
MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman issued a March 9 letter of support, joining prayers for Villatoro’s immediate release.
“An immigration system that detains people like Max and separates families is not merely broken; it is morally bankrupt and must be challenged,” he wrote. “Therefore, we pray that God may work in the hearts of those who have the power to secure Max’s release.”
Villatoro came to the U.S. seeking a better life in the early 1990s. He met his wife in the U.S. and they married in 2000. Shortly after that, he became a Christian, and the couple were leaders at Muscatine Mennonite Church. Their oldest son is a student at Iowa Mennonite School.
According to media reports, ICE classified Villatoro as “an enforcement priority” due to prior convictions. The Associated Press reported that supporters say Villatoro turned his life around after a 1998 drunken driving conviction. Media reports said he pleaded guilty to record tampering in 1999 after trying to illegally obtain a driver’s license.
The Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office helped coordinate a petition that had reached more than 6,500 signers by March 11 at groundswell-mvmt.org.
The petition states that President Obama’s February executive order should allow Villatoro a chance for relief from deportation because the pastor, community leader and father of U.S. citizens presents no security threat.
“Even though a federal judge has temporarily delayed some of the president’s immigration actions, ICE guidelines state that immigrants like Max should not be a deportation priority,” the petition says.
A moveon.org petition topped 21,000 signatures March 11.