Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beloved Long Island Pastor Faces Deportation (WCBS-New York)

Beloved Long Island Pastor Faces Deportation
Congregation Hopeful U.S. Immigration Will Prevent Rev. Haiko Behrens From Being Shipped Back To Germany

FRANKLIN SQUARE, N.Y. (CBS) ― Time is running out for a Lutheran minister in this country on a worker's visa. He's facing the possibility of being sent back to Germany.

His Long Island church is taking steps to keep him right here.

Reverend Haiko Behrens, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Franklin Square, is worried that he could be deported.

"I would feel broken," Behrens said. "I would feel very sad, disappointed."

The 38-year-old Behrens is here on a five-year, religious worker's visa that is non-renewable. But he and his Japanese wife, Leah, also here on a visa, want to stay.

Behrens came to the U.S. four-and-a-half years ago, first to a church in Michigan, then here to Franklin Square 18 months ago.

He's applied for status that his attorney said is often granted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- a petition to stay and apply for permanent residence status, a green card. However, it's been 16 months, and his lawyer has heard nothing.

"And this is, really, I think the longest time that a case has been in this stage of limbo," immigration attorney John Whitfield said.

Behrens said immigration has made clerical errors in handling his case.

It's a worry not only for Behrens and his wife, but also for fellow clergy who support him, and his congregation who don't want to see him go.

"It's a scary thought that we have to go through, this bureaucracy and things aren't working out," parishioner Nancy Torrente said.

"I love the congregation. I love this country. I do all this to stay here," Behrens said.

For now, Behrens and his wife must wait with the possibility of leaving the country Nov. 5.

A spokesman for immigration and customs enforcement would not comment on the status of the application, saying, "We don't talk about individual cases."

No comments: