‘Bad hombre’ or loving father?: Man finds sanctuary in Colorado Springs church

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — David Peña Peña is just 3 years old. He’s blissfully unaware of the dire situation facing his family. He doesn’t know why his father can’t leave the grounds of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs.

With the help of a translator, his father, 37-year-old Elmer Peña Peña, sat down with FOX21’s Lauren Ferrara to explain how he wound up on the radar of immigration enforcement officials and what could happen to him and his family if he’s deported.

Peña Peña has lived in Colorado illegally for the past 16 years.

“I never had any intention of leaving my country. I was working and I was fine,” said Peña Peña.

When he was threatened by gang members in El Salvador for the third time, he knew it was time to go.

“It was really difficult to leave,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.

He built a life in Denver: not an easy one, but a better life than he’d have back home.

“It’s very hard to live here if you don’t speak the language and if you don’t have paperwork that gives you permission to work,” he said.

He got married and has three American-born kids, who now have opportunities Peña Peña never had.

“I want the best for them,” he said.

Taking them back to such a dangerous and impoverished country is off the table as far as Peña Peña is concerned.

“How could I take my children to a place that’s so unsafe?,” he said.

If he is forced to leave the United States, he knows he’s going alone.

When asked if he had tried to go through the proper channels, would he have gotten to the United States, Peña Peña shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Had he stayed, he believes he would have been killed.

“My childhood friends, the people that were my age that lived where I lived, are all dead,” he said.

He doesn’t seem to be one of the “bad hombres” President Donald Trump promised to rid from this country. He has no criminal record. He pays his taxes.

“The only thing I did was come to this country without a permit,” he said.

But in 2012, he made what turned out to be one fateful mistake. He went straight in a turning lane and was pulled over.

“[The police officer] said ‘I’ll make sure you get deported,'” he said.

Peña Peña wound up in an ICE detention center for six months. He was on the brink of deportation when he finally secured a stay of removal. He renewed it every year, but this year ICE officials told him to leave the country by August 16.

That’s why he’s finding refuge at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.

“I’m not hiding,” he said. “I just want to be with family.”

That’s something he hopes every parent understands.

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