For the Last Five Months, Pastor Jose Chicas Has Been Hiding from ICE Inside a Durham Religious Center | News Feature | Indy Week

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For the Last Five Months, Pastor Jose Chicas Has Been Hiding from ICE Inside a Durham Religious Center



About a month ago, a fifty-two-year-old evangelical pastor named Jose Chicas was overcome with an inexplicable craving.

For months, he'd been secluded inside a small religious space in Durham, and suddenly he had the urge to sink his teeth into a McDonald's pancake. The thought of it hovered in front of his eyes like a mirage. Chicas hesitated, peered outside his front porch, and considered, for a fleeting moment, succumbing to the temptation.

But then, just as quickly, reality hit.

Chicas is undocumented, and since late June, Durham's School for Conversion, a religious education center on the property of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, has provided him with cover from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. A deportation order brought Chicas to the church grounds the day he was supposed to board a one-way flight to El Salvador, June 27. Since then, he hasn't taken a step outside, remaining holed up inside the modest, two-bedroom center's comfy but tight confines.

The pancake presented a dilemma. As a matter of policy, immigration officials typically avoid conducting raids on religious spaces, which is why Chicas took up residence at the School for Conversion in the first place. An inch beyond the invisible ring of safety etched around the facility could have ended Chicas's life as he knew it, sending him thousands of miles from the quiet, tree-lined street that now greets him every morning. Rationally, he knew that the risk wasn't worth it.

So Chicas reconsidered his options, peeking outside once again. Perhaps he could recruit a generous passerby willing to bring back the coveted pancake—McDonald's was only a few minutes away, after all, and surely any good American could understand a pancake craving.

Chicas waited, but no one showed up.

"There wasn't anyone" he says. "And then I felt sad. It was a drive, so it wasn't worth it. And then I think, When will I leave here?"

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