West Chicago church housing man facing deportation told it violated city code
Leaders at a West Chicago church are working to quickly fix city code violations discovered by firefighters early Tuesday morning that resulted in the temporary removal of an Elgin man facing deportation to Mexico who was seeking refuge in the building.
Firefighters were called to Faith Life Hope Mission and St. Peter the Apostle Mission, 900 E. Roosevelt Road, around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday due to a malfunctioning smoke detector, said West Chicago Fire Protection District Chief Patrick Tanner. They found three people sleeping inside the church, including Lorenzo Solorzano-Morales, the Elgin man who has been staying in the church since October, and two activists who were keeping him company.
Tanner said firefighters also discovered other building and life safety violations, such as expired fire extinguishers and a door covered in tape that prevented it from being a proper exit in the case of a fire. He said it is unsafe for anyone to continue occupying a space that doesn't comply with life safety standards.
City officials said Thursday they first learned the church had taken occupancy of the space after the firefighters reported it. John Said, the city's director of community development, said the church moved into the space without obtaining a required inspection and occupancy permit.
"It must be emphasized that the city did not close the church. We simply provided written notice that they did not have an occupancy permit and the proper inspection," he said, adding that ongoing conversations between the city, church and building owner have been "productive and constructive."
Mayor Ruben Pineda said city inspectors visited the church in person on Wednesday as well to provide a detailed list of violations that need to be addressed. If those repairs are made, he said, there will be no problem.
"This is strictly codes and ordinances and life safety issues," he said. "It has nothing to do with immigration; it has nothing to do with the gentleman in there."
But church leader the Rev. Jose Landaverde said he felt the situation was handled poorly. He said Pineda and other city leaders have been sincere and supportive when he has met with them, but he has suspicions that someone who didn't like what was happening at the church with Solorzano-Morales tampered with the fire alarm to make it go off.
"They were very insensitive," he said of the firefighters who responded to the fire alarm. "They didn't listen that we have a person in sanctuary there and we were very scared because that person cannot go outside the church. They should have been more polite, more understanding."
Tanner said claims that firefighters or someone else did something to make the alarm go off "couldn't be further from the truth."
"We want to provide the best life safety for anybody that's occupying a space," Tanner said. "Life safety code does not discriminate against anybody. The worst thing that could happen is they have a fire and a person gets trapped in."
Solorzano-Morales is temporarily being housed in another church in Cook County. Faith Life Hope Mission and the Cook County church are offering him refuge because the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a policy that states enforcement actions do not occur, and are not focused on, sensitive locations such as schools or churches.
Removal proceedings for Solorzano-Morales began after he was convicted of domestic battery in Kane County in January 2012. Solorzano-Morales applied for a cancellation of the removal but was denied. A federal immigration judge gave him the option to voluntarily leave in October 2014. Again, Solorzano-Morales filed an appeal, but that was denied in February.
Landaverde said work is underway to fix the life safety violations and he hopes the church can pass an inspection next week. Once the inspection is complete, the church will apply for an occupancy permit and then Solorzano-Morales can return.