After more than 15 months in immigration detention, and over five weeks in the Essex County Jail awaiting a final deportation hearing, Jorge Chajon, the Guatemalan detainee whose case Montclair faith-based organizers and their supporters have been anxiously following, is one step closer to freedom and return to his children, spouse and family.

On Nov. 9, in Newark’s Federal Immigrant Court, the judge rejected the government's request to deport Chajon to Guatemala, a country he hasn't lived in since he was 13 years-old when he first arrived in the United States to be reunited with his parents. To back up his finding, the judge ruled there was enough evidence to show that Chajon’s deportation would cause extreme and unusual hardship to his spouse, children and his parents.

In anticipation of the hearing, the Unitarian Universalist statewide advocacy organization, UU Faith Action, led a rally of over 50 immigrant rights supporters of Chajon, who was once a DACA recipient, and now a husband to a U.S. citizen and father of two young children. Present at the rally were local clergy leaders including the Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, co-senior minister of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair and the Rabbi Ariann Weitzman of Bnai Keshet as well as congregants from UUCM, Bnai Keshet, First Congregational Church, and other members of the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance, including Mary Ann Ficker, Johanna Foster, Jerry Fried, Georgianna Hart, Nick Lewis, Judith Rew, David Sailer, Bill Slezak, Roberta Elliott, Charles Wantman, and Carol Schlitt and her son Elliott Morley.

Activists gathered with a banner of petitions that included the names of over 2,500 additional supporters to rally for Chajon’s immediate release, and to demand an end to what they defined as the senseless, costly and cruel round-ups, detentions and deportations of undocumented people who pose no real threat to the community.

Jorge Chajon
A sign is held by a supporter at the rally for Jorge Chajon. COURTESY THE REV. ROB GREGSON

Among the three clergy leaders on hand in the courtroom to hear the oral judgment was Sammler-Michael, who led those assembled in a prayer for Chajon, his wife and young children who were also present at the rally, and for the thousands of others in New Jersey and the nation impacted by current immigration policies. Faith leaders such as those in the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance are increasingly calling out such policies as inconsistent with the fundamental values of their religious communities.

According to the Rev. Rob Gregson, executive director of UU Faith Action, Chajon’s defense lawyer said that the he believed the presence of people willing to bear witness in the courtroom made a real difference in the final outcome. “People are watching. And we are making a stink so that people cannot turn away from what is happening in our name,” said Gregson.

While Chajon received a decision from the judge that would have freed him from detention that day, the government reserved the right to appeal, which has delayed his release for at least 30 days. If the government does not appeal in 30 days, he will go free, which immigrant rights activists who rallied consider a promising outcome.  

As they wait out the 30 days, local faith-based organizers say they will continue to push back against the administration's current practices of immigrant detention and deportation as they believe that the federal bar is set too high for a detainee to show that removal would cause extreme and unusual hardship to one’s U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or children.

—Story courtesy of Johanna Foster, co-chair of the UUCM Social Justice Coalition.