WINSTON-SALEM — A Hispanic North Carolina pastor who had been arrested prior to deportation proceedings was granted bail at a hearing Sept. 2. That means he will be free until his trial to determine if he can stay in the United States.
Hector Villanueva, pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Siler City, was arrested Aug. 19 by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and taken to Gainesville, Ga., to be held, although he is a legal resident of the U.S.
Deportation proceedings against him are the consequence of a 15-year-old crime he committed before accepting Christ.
Villanueva, 40, has lived in the United States since he was 3. He is a legal resident with a green card and Social Security card. He and his wife, Martha, a U.S. citizen, have four children and are in the process of adopting two foster children.
Martha Villanueva told an Associated Baptist Press reporter Sept. 1 that her husband has a North Carolina attorney who specializes in immigration, Jorgelina Araneda, advocating for him. She said she was en route to Atlanta for the hearing, hoping that her husband can get out on bond so they can contest his deportation.
“I just know that my husband has not done anything illegal anytime recently,” she said. “This is a very old case that they brought up and I know that he’s a different person than he was then; he’s changed and I just — I just don’t know what else to say. I just want him home; he’s needed here.”
Martha Villanueva told the Raleigh News & Observer a lawyer alerted her husband several months ago that his green card might be in jeopardy because of a “commercial burglary” conviction in the mid-1990s.
He was homeless at the time and apparently tried to cash a check that wasn’t his. He became a practicing Christian while in jail and dedicated his life to the ministry. Martha Villanueva admitted that in his former life her husband did some things of which he is not proud.
After moving from California four years ago, Villanueva helped North Carolina CBF Hispanic Leader Coach Javier Benitez start Iglesia Bautista la Roca in Raleigh, one of a dozen congregations that form the state organization’s Hispanic Network. He recently started a new church in Siler City.
His conviction surfaced in a background check after he applied for U.S. citizenship.
Under current immigration law, any non-citizen convicted of an “aggravated felony” faces deportation, whether or not they have served their sentence.