Pastor Noe Carias Mayorga, pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in Los Angeles, was held in Adelanto Detention Center for 59 days. His wife, Victoria, and two children, ages 5 and 7, are all U.S. citizens. Mayorga — known as "Pastor Noe" — had a deportation order from entering the U.S. as a teenager more than 20 years ago. He was released on Sept. 22. Sojourners’ Immigration Campaign Associate Jessica Cobian talked with Pastor Noe about his experiences in the detention center and his call to our nation’s leaders.
This interview has been translated from Spanish, and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jessica Cobian, Sojourners: Tell us how you felt about being detained for 59 days in the Adelanto Detention Center?
Pastor Noe: The day I got arrested was a terrible day for me. I was with my kids and I told them that we would go out to eat after my appointment. When I went into my interview with my lawyer and our Assemblies of God Superintendent Dr. Navarrete, the officer arrested me.
They handcuffed me and searched me, and another officer said that they were taking me to the detention center in Adelanto. I had heard a lot about that detention center, but I never imagined how terrible that place actually is. I had a very bad experience there. I had a cold during the first few days of being there and I was not receiving any kind of medical attention.
Nevertheless, God was always with me, and from the first moment that I stepped foot in to the facility, I got to meet others and some of them recognized me. The following day, I began to hold services inside the detention center. I asked for permission, and they allowed me to give a service in one of the rooms. But it ended up being too small for us, so we were given permission to host our service outside, in an open area.
Seventeen people had a reconciliation with Christ while we were there. A pastor that was not following a Christian path had a reconciliation with God. Even though he would be deported, he told me that he was leaving with peace of mind, because he would be doing God’s will back in Honduras.
We had a service every day the first 20 days, then we started to do them five days a week.I had an incredible experience inside the detention center, because even though my family was outside, I understood that God had a purpose for me inside, since I was preaching. The last Wednesday that I was there, I had an incredible experience with God, and he gave me a lot of strength. And miraculously, the next day, he allowed for my release.
Jessica Cobian: Why were you detained?
Pastor Noe: I can’t speak too much about the legal matters in my case, but I had an order of deportation in 1995. My mom was very sick, so I had to go to Tijuana. That is why I left the U.S. and then came back. When that happened, I was detained and then I did not show up to court because I was afraid. So I had an order of deportation. Then my lawyer and I started to meet with ICE regularly. Under the last administration, I was not a priority for ICE since I did not have a criminal record. But with this new administration, things have changed.
Jessica: What are the next steps in your case?
Pastor Noe: Like I said, I can’t speak that much about my legal case, but I was with my lawyer yesterday and they gave me a date for a new appointment. I will need to show up again on Dec 28. My lawyer has solicited a pardon for the deportation that I have. I have trust in God that it will be approved so that I will have a work permit and green card.
Jessica: What would you say to our nation’s leaders who have the power to influence legislation on immigration?
Pastor Noe: I ask that they are compassionate. Don’t allow for more families to be separated. While I was inside, I would see how much families would suffer. Don’t allow for more families to be separated. God does not want families to be separated. Have compassion, and see how this is making a lot of families suffer.
Jessica: What would you say to people that support detention and deportation of those who have no criminal convictions?
Pastor Noe: Firstly, I would want to tell them that it's wrong to support this. We are not criminals, we did not come to this country to commit crimes. We came because we are running away from violence. I was kidnapped at age of seven — so we are running away from the violence in our country. We are here to work and contribute to society. We are not criminals.
I agree that safety is important regarding those that have committed a crime, but not regarding those who have not committed a crime. Those that came to this country without documents are not committing a crime. The officers from Adelanto told me, "You are a criminal and you're illegal, that’s why you’re here.” But I told them, "I'm not a criminal, I’m a victim of this system that needs an immigration reform.”
So, I urge people to remember what the Bible says. The Bible tells us to be compassionate. Just how we judge others, God will judge us. God told us to welcome the stranger.
Jessica: What do you have to say to those who followed your story and want to become more involved in immigrant justice?
Pastor Noe: I ask faith leaders to join this movement to defend our people. To fight and not give up so that our brothers and sisters are not separated from their families. Our brothers and sisters that are being detained just for going to work and are deported. We need to get together and be on this fight.
When I was inside, I never mentioned anything about religion. I shared with them about the importance of having a relationship with God. So, I think that if you get together, we can have a better impact. This country was founded on Christian principles, and if we get together and commit to those principles, we will be victorious. We need to fight for our immigrant brothers and sisters. We are the only allies they have.
Jessica: What was your first reaction when you heard that you would be released back to your family?
Pastor Noe: It was such an incredible moment, full of excitement. I was so thankful to God for the miracle of being reunited with my family after being in that terrible place for 59 days. I would like to thank everyone that supported me: Matthew 25, La Red, CLUE, the Catholic Church, the legislators, the media. Thank you!