Family grieves as pastor Max Villatoro awaits deportation
Those who know him say Max Villatoro, an Iowa City pastor and father of four, is not a criminal.
For the past five years, he and his wife, Gloria, 33, have been co-pastors of Torre Fuerte, a Hispanic service held at the First Mennonite Church, 405 Myrtle Ave., at 5 p.m. every Sunday.
Gloria said Sunday her husband, 42, was taken into custody outside their home at the Hilltop Mobile Home Park in Iowa City early Tuesday morning by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. She said her husband gave a neighbor a ride to work and had just returned to their home when he was arrested.
Villatoro is being held by ICE on immigration charges, and he faces deportation to Honduras.
“That was very characteristic of Max — he’s always helping somebody. It’s no surprise that the morning before he got taken he had already done somebody else a favor,” said Karla Stoltzfus Detweiler, a pastor of community life for the First Mennonite Church.
Gloria Villatoro said her husband came to the U.S. from Tegucigalpa, Honduras — the country’s capital city — more than two decades ago and had secured temporary citizenship through a work permit around the year 2000. She said they met in Iowa City and were married in the same time frame. Gloria Villatoro said she is originally from Sinaloa, Mexico, and became a U.S. citizen when she was very young.
According to the Associated Press, Max Villatoro pleaded guilty to immigration record tampering in 1999, but his wife maintains he was issued a valid work permit the following year.
According to a statement sent Friday from ICE, an agency of Homeland Security, the department is “focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of convicted criminals and public safety threats. The agency exercises prosecutor discretion, on a case-by-case basis, as necessary to focus resources on these priorities.”
That statement doesn’t satisfy some who know Villatoro.
“This is not the kind of person who should be a priority for deportation from our country. He is not a criminal,” Stoltzfus Detweiler said. “He is being portrayed as a criminal, but he is not.”
Gloria Villatoro said she is devastated by the arrest and worries constantly about her husband and their four children: Anthony, 15; Edna, 13; Angela, 10; and Aileen, 7. All four children are also legal citizens.
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