DENVER — A Mexican man who is living in a Denver church basement to avoid a deportation order said Friday that he does not know if he is covered by President Obama's executive order granting new rights to millions of people living illegally in the United States and he is afraid to leave the church.
Standing in a basement bedroom at the First Unitarian Society of Denver beside a poster of him and his family, Arturo Hernandez said new federal policies the president announced Thursday will probably protect his wife and children, but he is worried a deportation order against him will still be carried out.
Hernandez said the new immigration policies will have to be clarified before he can go back to live with his family. Immigration officials have promised not to pursue people wanted for immigration violations into sensitive areas like churches unless they have committed serious crimes, but that's of little comfort to Hernandez.
"What happens to people who are already have deportation orders, or people who have already been deported (but still qualify for the new rights). We're going to wait until Obama tells us all of the details," he said.
For now, there is a lot of confusion on how the executive order will be implemented.
"It's still a little unclear to us. We are still trying to dissect (Obama's) orders," said Ashley Hause, spokeswoman for Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who is trying to help Hernandez and thousands of other immigrants without the proper legal documents in the Denver area.
Hernandez and his family came to the United States on a tourist visa in 1999 and stayed after Hernandez got work as a contractor. He said he has not ventured outside since he entered the church a month ago.
During the day, he reads books and magazines, works on Sudoku math puzzles, watches television and pedals on an exercise bicycle.
Hernandez said he got into a scrape with another contractor while laying floor tile. He was arrested and then acquitted when he went to trial. The deportation order came after his arrest, and he was ordered expelled from the country last month.
Jennifer Piper, a coordinator for a nationwide network of churches supporting or offering sanctuary, said Friday that immigrants who are in the United States illegally should wait until an application process has been set up before taking any action. Piper warned them against falling prey to people who say they can help them out now.
"Anyone who says they can get you in line now is lying," she said.
Associated Press Writer P. Solomon Banda also contributed to this story.