U.S. Army chaplain, 46, fights to stop his 24-year-old husband's deportation

  • Army chaplain Tim Brown, 46, seeks to keep his 24-year-old husband in the U.S.
  • Immigration officials arrested Sergio Avila-Rodriguez May 10  
  • He could be deported to his home country of Honduras, where he hasn't lived since he was seven years old
  • Brown claims ICE agents assured him they would not deport an officer's spouse
  • ICE agents released Avila-Rodriguez while he awaits immigration court 
  • The couple was reunited Monday 

By Valerie Bauman Social Affairs And Trends Reporter

Published: 15:33 EDT, 16 May 2018 | Updated: 16:46 EDT, 16 May 2018

A U.S. Army Chaplain is fighting to keep his husband in the country after Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents arrested him on May 10 and threatened to deport him to Honduras, where he hasn't lived since he was seven.

Avila Rodriguez, 24, was released from ICE custody on Monday and was reunited with his husband, Tim Brown, 46, while he appeals a deportation order from a federal immigration judge.

'I've served 10 years, I've served in two deployments, been to Afghanistan twice. I've done my work,' Brown said in an interview with Newsweek. 'But more than anything, I'm just frustrated we have a system that's so broken.'

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (right), 46, is trying to keep his 24-year-old husband in the country after Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents arrested Sergio Avila Rodriguez on May 10 and threatened to deport him to Honduras
U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (right), 46, is trying to keep his 24-year-old husband in the country after Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents arrested Sergio Avila Rodriguez on May 10 and threatened to deport him to Honduras

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown, 46, is trying to keep his 24-year-old husband in the country after Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents arrested Sergio Avila Rodriguez on May 10 and threatened to deport him to Honduras. Avila Rodriguez was released from ICE custody on Monday and was reunited with his husband while he appeals a deportation order from a federal immigration judge

Brown, of Sanford, North Carolina, told Newsweek that an ICE agent had told him on April 18 that his husband would be safe from deportation.

'He said, 'Do you think we're going to arrest the spouse of an active-duty Army officer?'' Brown said.

Brown said Avila Rodriguez fled violence in Honduras with his uncle at age seven, and has been in the U.S. ever since.

'Sergio's quote-unquote crime...was being a 7-year-old who was brought unwillingly, of no volition of his own, to the U.S. by his uncle, and you want to take him out in shackles?' Brown said. 'It's unbelievable to me. To his mind, this is his home.'

Brown said the couple has spent thousands of dollars to keep Avila Rodriguez in the country.

'Imagine this situation where you're at the mercy of a bureaucracy that is massive and an enforcement agency that just goes in and rips families apart and your only recourse is to just sit there,' Brown said.

ICE officials said in a statement that they first encountered Avila Rodriguez during a targeted enforcement action in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 18.

Tim Brown married his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez, in January 2017 (pictured above on their wedding day)
Tim Brown married his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez, in January 2017 (pictured above on their wedding day)

Tim Brown married his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez, in January 2017 (pictured above on their wedding day)

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (right) said he has spent thousands of dollars to keep his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez from being deported to Honduras
U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (right) said he has spent thousands of dollars to keep his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez from being deported to Honduras

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (right) said he has spent thousands of dollars to keep his husband, Sergio Avila Rodriguez from being deported to Honduras

Immigration and Customs Enforcement ramps up deportation efforts under Trump

Sergio Avila Rodriguez will likely have to travel to Texas for his appeal, which is where he was found crossing into the country illegally with his uncle in 2001 at the age of 7. Avila Rodriguez has had a standing deportation order since missing a court appearance in 2002 for that crossing.

ICE officials said they are waiting for the court to make a decision before determining future actions in Avila Rodriguez's case, but in the meantime he has no legal status in the U.S., despite his marriage to Tim Brown, 46, of Sanford, North Carolina.

Foreign nationals illegally present in the U.S. are generally not eligible to adjust their status through marriage without first leaving the country, ICE officials said.

Under President Donald Trump, ICE has increased its efforts to arrest and deport people living here illegally. In 2017 the agency made 143,470 administrative arrests - an increase of 33,366 compared to 2016 

ICE is focused on removing people who are public safety threats, such as convicted criminals and gang members, as well as people who have violated U.S. immigration laws by illegally re-entering the country after being removed.

Agents took him into custody after he reported in on May 10 to the agency's Charlotte office. ICE officials described him as 'an immigration fugitive' with a criminal conviction.

Avila Rodriguez was convicted of driving while intoxicated in Durham County in January 2015, ICE officials said. He was also stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol near Rio Grande City, Texas in September 2001 while attempting to illegally enter the country.

The agency 'respects the service and sacrifice of those in the military and the families who support them, and is very deliberate in its review of cases associated with veterans and active-duty service members,' ICE officials said in a statement. 

The agency added that 92 percent of all people arrested by ICE in Fiscal Year 2017 'either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge, or were already subject to a removal order issued by a federal immigration judge.'

Brown, who launched a social media campaign after his husband's arrest, said the couple feels 'humiliated' and as if they have been 'stripped of everything.'   

He used the hashtag, #operationsavesergio to garner public support and media attention for his husband's plight. After Avila Rodriguez's release Monday, Brown posted an update on Facebook, declaring the couple's 'gratitude.'

'Sergio and I have felt loved,' Brown wrote. 

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (left) said he and his husband were 'humiliated' by the experience with ICE agents. The couple pose for a photograph at a University of Alabama football game
U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (left) said he and his husband were 'humiliated' by the experience with ICE agents. The couple pose for a photograph at a University of Alabama football game

U.S. Army Chaplain Tim Brown (left) said he and his husband were 'humiliated' by the experience with ICE agents. The couple pose for a photograph at a University of Alabama football game

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