When Bernard Pastor arrived on campus for freshmen orientation, his small group played a game of two truths, one lie. “My last name is Pastor and my dad’s a pastor,” he said when it was his turn. “I speak three languages. And I was on national news recently.”
No one guessed his lie: Pastor doesn’t speak three languages.
Pastor’s father is, in fact, a pastor, and just months before he enrolled at Xavier, young Pastor was making headlines while Congress debated the Dream Act—immigration legislation that would directly affect his future. At that time, Pastor was also in jail.
It all started with a fender-bender one rainy night in 2010, a few months after Pastor graduated from a Cincinnati high school. After delivering some Spanish Bibles to the cooks at a Cincinnati Chik-fil-A, Pastor rear-ended a white Chevy Malibu at a stoplight. It was a minor collision, but a defining moment in Pastor’s life.
Pastor had no driver’s license or Social Security number. In 1995, when he was 3 years old, Pastor’s parents came to the United States from Guatemala without documentation. They applied for asylum in Missouri, explaining that they were fleeing persecution in Guatemala, which was ending its three-decade civil war. The judge denied their asylum and they moved to Cincinnati.
Pastor can’t remember Guatemala, and his parents don’t talk about it much. He grew up as an American, and never gave much thought to his citizenship. “I was just living like a typical teenage American,” he says. “I grew up loving everything everyone commonly loves.”
One of his earliest memories is playing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt on Nintendo. He played four years of varsity soccer for Reading High School, leading the team to its first undefeated season. He was voted “Best Dressed” at his senior prom and was a Homecoming King nominee. To his friends, he was the consummate gentleman. “I don’t think there was a person in school who didn’t like him,” says Jenny So, a friend since seventh grade. “He has the biggest heart I think you’d ever meet in someone.”
So everyone was shocked to hear that Pastor was in jail. No one had known he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. A police officer on the scene of the fender-bender realized Pastor was undocumented and put him under arrest. Pastor spent that night in jail. The next day he was transferred into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who informed him he would be deported to Guatemala, a country he had never known.
Word spread quickly of his detention, and a network of friends, former teachers and local immigrant rights groups joined together to advocate for his release. “When he got into trouble, I was contacted by one of the ministers I know in town,” says Rabbi Abbi Ingber, Xavier’s director of interfaith community engagement. “I was asked if I could be helpful. My answer was, ‘I don’t know, but I could try.’ ”
Ingber joined other supporters in vigils protesting Pastor’s pending deportation. Pastor’s case drew national attention, because while he sat in jail, the Dream Act was making its way through the U.S. Senate, legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants of good character who were brought into the country before they were 16, if they enrolled in college or enlisted in the military. Pastor was a perfect example of the young immigrants the legislation was written for—someone whose only home was America.
With the help of an immigration lawyer, and perhaps the national spotlight his case received, Pastor’s deportation was deferred. He was released from jail one month after his arrest, with permission to stay and work in the United States for one year and a chance to renew that permission on a year-to-year basis.
A day after he was released, the Senate was due to vote on the Dream Act. Pastor flew to Washington, D.C., with his lawyer and a supporter to join other young immigrants like him at the vote. (Pastor used a Guatemalan consulate card as ID for the flight—his first time on an airplane.) After meeting with Ohio senators to lobby his case, Pastor watched from the Senate gallery as the Dream Act was voted down. Pastor was disappointed, but not dismayed. His faith in God gives him hope. “I honestly don’t worry about anything at all,” he says.
“That’s just the way I am.”
After Pastor was reunited with his family in Cincinnati, Ingber suggested he apply to Xavier. Pastor was accepted, and he enrolled last fall as a business major. “We’re just so lucky to have him here on campus,” says Ingber. “He deserves to be just another student at Xavier University. But he is sensitive and committed enough to understand that he is really charting new territory.”
Meanwhile, Pastor’s future remains uncertain. In December, he was granted another year in the United States, but his status here could change at the whim of a future government. Ingber, for one, hopes that someday a version of the Dream Act will become law. “Our own children have grown up in classrooms with these young people,” he says. “We should be recruiting them as opposed to deporting them.”