Judge rules immigrants in church must leave

A Charlotte immigrant family is pinning its hopes to remain in the country on President Barack Obama's recent policy change allowing illegal immigrants who don't pose a threat to public safety to stay.

On Thursday, Arturo Cabriales Gomez, his wife, Abigail, and their three children, Aldair, 14, Adamaris, 13, and Arizbeth, 10, were ordered to leave the country by Nov. 21.

They were among 20 immigrant members of an evangelical church who were ordered removed by a Charlotte immigration judge.

Rob Heroy, an attorney for El Buen Pastor, an evangelical congregation with members in Charlotte, Raleigh and Lumberton, said he'll appeal.

Immigration Judge Barry Pettinato denied the members' request to reconsider a motion to throw out their case based on allegations that border agents stopped their vehicle in Louisiana on April 15, 2010, through profiling as they returned from an annual church conference near Houston.

But Pettinato did not have the family or any of the immigrants taken into custody.

At the hearing Thursday, most of the members were dressed in conservative clothing. The women wore veils to cover their hair.

The church group must appeal by Oct. 24, which would allow the members to remain in the country pending a decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals, Heroy said. He said it can take as long as two years for the board to make a decision.

Arturo Cabriales Gomez, whose family is from Mexico, said he's optimistic that the additional time will help them seek to have the case closed based on federal guidelines introduced last month.

"Our only hope is that Obama stops the deportation," he said.

The Obama administration has said it would focus deportation efforts on more dangerous illegal immigrants. Undocumented immigrants determined to be a low priority because they do not have a criminal record and pose no threat to public safety could be released and given a work permit.

The policy also takes into consideration whether the illegal immigrants were brought here as children, or whether they have long family ties to the country.

Immigration officials did not specifically address the church group's request to close the case but gave the Observer information stating that individuals without criminal convictions can still be removed.

Twenty-two members of the church and their supporters attended the hearing.

One woman had her case closed because she had a special visa for victims of crime. Another had her case continued for the same type of visa.

The remaining immigrants were ordered removed from the country. Most accepted voluntary departure.