Charlotte immigration activist detained by ICE - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Charlotte immigration activist detained by ICE

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

An active civil rights advocate who has lived in Charlotte for 15 years is behind bars hundreds of miles away.

Monday morning, Customs and Border Patrol agents arrested Rausel Arista in a New York airport.  He's not a U.S. citizen and officials say he was flying without his proper paperwork. 

Monday evening, dozens attended a vigil at Charlotte's Caldwell Presbyterian Church. They hoped to send a message to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release Arista. 

Armando Bellmas, Director of Communications for the Latin American Coalition, says he deserves to come back to Charlotte, documentation or not. 

"He has a family here, he has a life here. He's part of a Catholic Church in Monroe. He's got two young children, ages seven and nine," Bellmas said. 

Arista was returning to Charlotte after visiting friends in New York. 

"As he was going through security, TSA pulled him off to the side. They looked at his ID which was a Mexican passport. He was apprehended, arrested and detained," Bellmas said.

Arista is not a US citizen and traveling without documentation is illegal, but friends say Arista is a dad, a community leader, a civil rights activist and someone with no criminal record. 

Through the vigil, they hoped to get the feds attention before it's too late. 

"Worst case scenario is that he gets on a plane and gets sent back to Mexico, a place that he hasn't been to in over 17 years," Bellmas said. 

Arista works for the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte. Friends say he's helped stop 13 deportations in the past two years.

Elver Barrios works with Arista. Barrios, who admits he is living in the country illegally, says it boils down to wanting a better life.

"If breaking the law means wanting to live, then I'm sorry, than I'm breaking the law too for wanting to live or wanting to have a family, for wanting to have a future," Barrios said. 

Barrios says he admires his friend's courage to get on that airplane in the first place.

"Flying is a big fear for people. It's really hard to be undocumented especially when you're profiled everywhere you go," Barrios said. 

The group plans to continue calling the agency until Arista is released.

WBTV reached out to ICE and has not heard back. 

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