An attorney for an Ecuadorian man who was arrested in Minneapolis and ordered deported from the U.S. 25 years ago will go to court Tuesday to ask that his case be reopened.

Nelson Pinos, now 45, has been living in sanctuary in a church in New Haven, Connecticut, for a year and a half.

His attorney, Tina Colon Williams of the Esperanza Center for Law & Advocacy, says Pinos was 19 years old when he was arrested. She said Monday that he was not aware when an immigration court ordered his deportation in 1994, and that he did not become aware of the order until 2012.

Since Pinos did not have an opportunity to show up for immigration court the first time, Williams contends that the order was not properly issued and therefore is not legally valid. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Tuesday in St. Paul, Minnesota.

John Mohan, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency does not comment on specifics of immigration cases being heard before an immigration judge.

But in a statement, ICE said a federal immigration judge issued Pinos a final order of removal in 2015. Pinos was not placed in ICE custody but was allowed to periodically report to an ICE office after previously providing proof that he intends to comply with the order, the agency said.

Pinos failed to depart as scheduled and then sought shelter in the Connecticut church, according to ICE. He was then declared an immigration fugitive. Seeking sanctuary at a site categorized by ICE as a sensitive location may delay “but does not void” ICE’s authority to enforce a removal order, the agency said.

ICE said the agency is aware of Pinos’ pending court appeal, but the removal order against him remains in effect.

Pinos sought sanctuary in the church after he was ordered to leave the U.S. in late 2017. The New Haven resident has been living in the U.S. illegally since 1992. His supporters rallied at a federal courthouse in Hartford, Connecticut, last November to mark the anniversary of Pinos moving into the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church.

Williams, his attorney, said the protracted church stay is taking its toll on Pinos and his three children, who visit him regularly.

“His prolonged time in a church building has been a severe strain on his emotional health, his morale, but also on his kids,” Williams said.

But if Pinos leaves the church, he risks being picked up and deported, Williams said. And he would not be able to return to the U.S. legally unless the deportation order is rescinded and the case reopened, she said.

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