Church calls on ICE to release asylum-seeking father with family in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- Faith leaders at one San Diego church called upon Immigration and Customs Enforcement Sunday to parole an asylum-seeking father who has been in federal custody for more than a year.

Voices raised in song rang loudly Sunday through St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Park in support of Annie Kapongo Bakala and her seven children.

Bakala stood in the church before the congregation, clearly emotional as a group of more than 100 people stood behind her family. The sign of support was made to demand that ICE authorities free Annie’s husband Constantin Bakala, who is currently in federal custody.

“It has been very hurtful," translator Marie Elizabeth Clark said. "She was with her husband and suddenly she’s separated. It has been very hard and very painful for her to be in that situation."

With help from Clark, Bakala told FOX 5 that her family survived extreme hardship escaping from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Upon arriving at the San Ysidro border crossing, she said her husband was taken away by several ICE agents.

“It’s hard for her husband, who has been by himself. It’s also hard for her because she’s the one responsible for the whole family. Seven kids to raise by herself -- that’s difficult,” Clark said.

Bakala and her children haven’t seen Constantin in 19 months. He’s currently being held in a Georgia federal immigration detention center.

"We believe this is essential to the church’s mission to support this family" Rev. Colin Mathewson said. Mathewson is one of the religious leaders at St. Luke's, and he’s also a member of San Diego Organizing Project, a group that consists of 28 faith leaders.

After spending months working on behalf of the family, Mathewson said Constantin now has the right to a new hearing with a lawyer.

San Diego Organizing Project is calling on ICE to parole Constantin and reunite the family. If they’re sent back to the Congo, Mathewson said all of them -- including the children -- will face certain death.

"The threat is still very real for his family, for his wife,” Mathewson said. “We will be asking hundreds if not thousands of people across the country to call his deportation officer and the assistant field director of the Atlanta office to use their discretion and to bring Constantin back to his family."

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