By Suzanne Pollak @SuzannePollak
SILVER SPRING — A pastor who fled his Flower Branch apartment two years ago during a gas explosion that killed seven people only to turn around and head back into the flames to rescue his neighbors sits in federal prison awaiting possible deportation.
Eddie Macario of Silver Spring, faces a deportation hearing Tuesday morning at the George Fallon Building in Baltimore. His attorney, Johanna Kelley, expects a federal judge to decide his fate by the end of the week.
The Guatemalan-native, who is 28 years old and has a one-year-old daughter who is an American citizen, was arrested during the first week of August and has been in federal prison ever since.
He fled his native Guatemala in 2010 but was caught by the U.S. Border Patrol and sent back. He returned home only to illegally reenter the United States several years ago.
“He lived here about a year when ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] found him. He was going from home to work and stopped to get coffee” when he was arrested, Kelley.
Macario is an Evangelical pastor, who assisted his Flower Branch neighbors religiously and now does the same for his fellow inmates, she said.
Tanushree Isaacman visited him in prison recently. “He is full of faith, and he is full of gratitude, for the support he received from his neighbors and area religious leaders.
Even though his faith is strong, “he is afraid” and has nightmares of being beaten for his religious beliefs if he has to return to Guatemala, she said.
Thursday night, about 70 people gathered at St. Camillius Church in Silver Spring for a prayer service.
During the service, Pastor Don McFarlane of Sligo Seventh Day Adventist Church, called on American leaders and citizens “to help us welcome refugees with joy” and to realize they are “simply seeking a better life.”
Gustavo Zuniga, who also lived in the Flower Branch Apartments during the explosion and fire, called his friend “a man of God, but our friend is also a son and a father.
“We want our friend back.”
Elise Brun is a survivor of the Flower Branch Apartments explosion and recalled that night. ”In the explosion and fire, many of us ran to safety. Our friend went back to look for survivors,” she said.
Throughout the past two years, “he continued to pastor us” and he helped translate for those who could not speak English.
“He loves this country,” she said.
Those who know him described Macario as a hero whose every action is determined by his faith.
Cynthia Marshall, lead organizer for Action In Montgomery, created a fundraiser on Facebook, raising $300 for legal fees as of Friday afternoon.
“When you talk to him on the telephone receiver through the glass window in prison, he says, “The US is a wonderful country, because of its freedom of religion. There are many people in jail with me who fell alone and hopeless. I am helping them to find God’s love and realize they are not alone,” it says on the fundraising page.
According to the fundraising page, the pastor “has no criminal record, only a conviction of driving without a license.”
Several religious leaders, including Rev. Nancy Ladd of River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, said prayers and lit candles during the evening service.
She called the pastor’s strength and gratitude “inspirational,” noting he has never lost his faith.
That faith is what “literally propelled him back into a burning building,” and now he is “treated as less than human, locked up behind cement walls,” Ladd said.
“It affects us all, to see not just an individual, but a true leader” jailed and awaiting deportation, she said
“He came here seeking asylum, to a place that promised him the religious freedom he couldn’t have” in Guatemala, she said.
She urged audience members to “be that community he believes we are” and to fill the courthouse in support during Tuesday’s deportation hearing.
“We are not going to be there to be aggressive. We will not be there to shout. We will not be there to disrupt. We will be there to bear witness.” Ladd said.
“We show up for each other.”
Immigration attorney Kelley thanked Thursday night’s attendees, saying, “You guys are giving me the best closing argument ever.”
She noted that the pastor and his family “are going through so much pain, as are thousands of immigrants.”
When America separates families and closes its borders, it becomes necessary to fight, she said. “It’s not about one person. It’s about all of us. It’s about what America is.”