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World News

Salvadoran immigrant leaves North Carolina church grounds after years in sanctuary as Biden takes office

A Salvadoran immigrant and pastor who sought sanctuary in a church building in Durham, North Carolina, is heading home to Raleigh, days after Joe Biden took office.

José Chicas, 55, took shelter in June 2017 inside the School for Conversion, a small house in the grounds of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, after he was issued with a deportation order.

Speaking to CNN, Pastor Chicas said he initially expected to spend around three to four months in sanctuary.

"I had no idea what I was getting into," he said as he packed and prepared to leave. "I thought it would be three or four months. But months turned into years."

His family visited when they could and Pastor Chicas continued ministering via live Facebook videos and from time to time held in-person meetings.

A website called Keep Pastor Chicas Home was set up to help Pastor Chicas while he was in sanctuary, 

His sermons focused on the power of redemption and he spoke about using drugs and alcohol in the past that put him on a dangerous path. He also spoke about convictions for DUI and domestic abuse and how he was eventually issued with a deportation order. 

Pastor Chicas came to the U.S. when he was 19 to escape civil war. He added that since 2002, he's been a changed man.

"I met so many people. ... I've come to realize that there are hundreds and hundreds of Americans that have a good heart and love immigrants," he said. "I've seen it with my own eyes."

On Friday a new Biden administration policy took effect that blocked most deportations for 100 days while officials review policies and ensure "a fair and effective immigration enforcement system focused on protecting national security, border security, and public safety," according to a Department of Homeland Security press release.

Pastor Chicas said he's confident the new President "has a different heart from the government that just left" and will come up with a solution to help him and millions of other undocumented immigrants, after the 100-day window closes.

He added that he's looking forward to spending time with his family, going out for ice-cream and visiting parks and beaches.

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