CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ABP) -- An immigration judge granted a motion Sept. 2 allowing a Baptist church planter facing possible deportation to Mexico to remain in the United States.
Hector Villanueva, who arrived in the U.S. 38 years ago as a toddler, found his legal status in jeopardy last August when his application for citizenship revealed a 16-year-old felony conviction in California. That was before he accepted Christ in prison and prior to passage of a law that immigrants who commit a felony can be deported.
Bi-vocational pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Roca in Siler City, N.C., and owner of Prestige Home Repairs and Painting, Villanueva is supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina as a church planter. The CBFNC also funded his immigration attorney.
Villanueva was the only person to testify at his hearing, although the gallery was filled with three dozen supporters, four of them prepared to testify.
Attorney Jorgelina Araneda said she had never before conducted an immigration hearing in which the judge decided in favor of her client on basis of the client’s testimony alone.
In granting Villanueva’s request for waiver the judge said the evidence indicates the father of six has lived an “exemplary life” since his prison term and that he is “completely rehabilitated.”
While granting the waiver, the court warned Villanueva that such a waiver can only be granted once, and that any conflict with the law in the future would be grounds for immediate deportation.
Asked if the hearing went the way he had hoped, Villanueva said, “My way was to stay here, but I didn’t want my way. I wanted God’s way.”
The North Carolina CBF appealed recently for individuals to write character references for Villanueva and, if possible, attend the Sept. 2 hearing in Charlotte. After accepting congratulations from supporters, he said their presence made a big difference in the hearing.
“Without them, I really don’t know what would have happened, to tell the truth,” he said.
Norman Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.