WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (ABP) — Leaders of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina solicited urgent prayer Aug. 27 for a Hispanic pastor facing possible deportation for a 15-year-old crime he committed before accepting Christ.
According to media reports, Hector Villanueva, pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Siler City, N.C., was arrested Aug. 19 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and taken to Gainesville, Ga., to face an immigration judge.
Villanueva, 40, has lived in the United States since he was 3. He is a legal resident with a green card and Social Security card. He and his wife, Martha, a U.S. citizen, have four children and are in the process of adopting two foster children.
Martha Villanueva told the Raleigh News and Observer that a lawyer alerted her husband several months ago that his green card might be in jeopardy because of a "commercial burglary" conviction in the mid-1990s.
He was homeless at the time and apparently tried to cash a check that wasn't his. He became a practicing Christian while in jail and dedicated his life to the ministry. His wife admitted that in his former life her husband did some things he is not proud of.
"He is a man that loves to help people," his wife told North Carolina television station WRAL. "His passion is just to serve God in the ministry and to help."
After moving from California four years ago, Villanueva helped North Carolina CBF Hispanic Leader Coach Javier Benitez start Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Raleigh, one of a dozen congregations that form the state organization's Hispanic Network. He recently started a new church in Siler City.
His conviction surfaced in a background check after he applied for U.S. citizenship. Under current immigration law, any non-citizen convicted of an "aggravated felony" faces deportation, whether or not they have served their sentence.
"Hector has an immigration lawyer, who is petitioning on his behalf to be released on bond," CBF of North Carolina Executive Coordinator Larry Hovis, Missions Coordinator Linda Jones and Social Ministries Coordinator Laura Barkley included in the prayer appeal. "Many of us have written character reference letters, but now we need your prayers. Please pray for Hector and his family in their time of need."
"We are hoping he will be allowed to stay with his church and family," Jones said in a Friday e-mail. "He's a great guy, and this is a real tragic story so far."