Pastor Jose Armando, 48, is facing deportation. His family claims the case against him is a misunderstanding.
BENSON, N.C. -
A Benson community is fighting to save its church pastor from deportation.
Rev. Jose Armando, 48, who is in the United States illegally, was taken away by immigration officials in early June, but his family said the case against him is largely a misunderstanding.
Armando's stepson, Sergio Tabora, said federal agents gave no warning when they took away his dad.
"It's three weeks since we've heard from him and the whole family is devastated," Tabora said, "We don't know what's going on."
Tabora said they were only told Armando was diagnosed with diabetes and that he spent some time in the hospital before going to a Mecklenburg County jail.
"It hits you the wrong way," Armando's daughter-in-law, Jannet Lopez Casas, said of seeing her father-in-law in prison clothes. "And you just want to go and get him out of there because he doesn't belong there."
Federal prosecutors said the evidence against Armando indicates he does belong there. A federal indictment, returned from a grand jury on June 18, accuses Armando of making false statements when he applied for a temporary work permit in 2010. Prosecutors said he lied about a drug conviction from 1994. He was then convicted of possession for sale of a controlled substance in Los Angeles.
His family claims a woman he hired to fill out the paperwork misled him.
"Just put what you are now. Don't do nothing of what you did before," Tabora recalled the woman telling his stepfather. "And that's exactly what he did."
Following that 1994 conviction, his family said Armando was deported to Mexico, even though he is actually from Honduras. Armando returned to the United States weeks later a changed man, his family said -- out to change the Benson community he calls home.
"There were people in gangs. There were people in drugs," Tabora said of his stepfather's evangelical work, "They're not there no more because he took the courage to talk to them about what his life had done."
Now, members of his church are getting ready for an upcoming rally on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at 105 E. Main St. in Benson to bring the case more attention.
"We understand he's here illegally," Tabora said, "but we understand that America's a country of second chances and I think he was given a second chance. He took advantage of the second chance."
Armando's family said they'd like to hire a lawyer, but do not currently have the money.
Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms.More>>