Advocates for a Guatemalan man, who was in sanctuary for more than three years in western Massachusetts, say a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision could help him stay in the country.
Lucio Perez said he came from Guatemala to Massachusetts in 1999 at the age of 17. His wife followed and they raised four children while he worked in landscaping.
But about 10 years ago, Perez was arrested for leaving his children in a car while he stopped at a Dunkin Donuts. Those charges were dropped, but his case was turned over to U.S. immigration officials. He's been fighting deportation ever since.
Speaking publicly this week, Perez said he wants to continue living with his family, including three children who are U.S. citizens, but that remains up the air.
In 2017, he entered sanctuary at an Amherst church. Earlier this year, the Biden administration stayed his deportation, allowing him to leave the church, but he could still have to leave the country.
So Perez was delighted with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April that said certain letters from the immigration department that do not provide a specific court date violate the law.
Since Perez received a letter without a court date, his lawyer Glenn Formica said that gives his pending appeal a better chance.
"But does it change his day-to-day life?" Formica said. "Not really. He still has to wait."
Nevertheless, Formica and other advocates said the court's decision could be life-changing for millions of people in a similar situation to Perez.
"This decision gives wind at the backs of many of us who believe that our immigration system is confusing, chaotic and unfair," said U.S. Representative Jim McGovern.
Although the court's decision concerns a narrow administrative issue, McGovern said it opens an opportunity for Congress to revamp the immigration system — especially since a Trump appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote the decision for the majority.
"This is an opportunity for us to correct a bad system. And we can't blow it," McGovern said. "I mean, we have to understand that this moment may not be around forever."
As he awaits his appeal, Perez is living with his family in Springfield, waiting for permission to go back to work.
This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media on June 1, 2021.
This segment aired on June 2, 2021.