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BENSON, N.C. -
A Benson community is rallying to try and save their beloved pastor from deportation. More than 100 people showed up to a rally in downtown Benson on Wednesday in support of Rev. Jose Armando.
The 48-year-old Honduras native, who is in the United States illegally, was taken away by immigration officials in early June, but his family said the case against him is largely a misunderstanding.
Wednesday night, family members, friends and church members carried signs and walked around a downtown park chanting phrases like "We need our pastor!" and "Set him free!"
Federal prosecutors accused Armando of making false statements when he applied for a temporary work permit in 2010. Prosecutors said he lied about a drug conviction from 1994. He was then convicted of possession for sale of a controlled substance in Los Angeles.
His family claims a woman he hired to fill out the paperwork misled him.
"Just put what you are now. Don't do nothing of what you did before," Armando's stepson Sergio Tabora recalled the woman telling his stepfather in an interview on Monday. "And that's exactly what he did."
In June, Armando was taken to the Mecklenburg County jail, where doctors diagnosed him with diabetes. Today his family also learned the illness was so severe, one of his toes had to be amputated. Tabora says his family has not seen Armando in about a month.
"It's been hard for us to get information from the jail. We'd call and they're not giving us anything," Tabora said.
The family is getting help with finding an attorney from immigrant advocacy group the N.C. Dream Team.
"This is a case that we don't know how it was handled in California," Viridiana Martinez with N.C. Dream Team said. "He was deported to Mexico when he's a Honduran national, for God's sake, like that is enough for me to think that 20 years ago, his case wasn't handled properly."
Armando's family says Tabora is a changed man that has touched his community over the last two decades.
We are here because, in our countries, we couldn't be heard," Tabora said. "We are here because in our countries, poverty is at its max. Violence is at its max. And here we found a home. Benson is our home. I went to school here in Benson. My dad put me through school here in Benson. This is his town as well. He loves this town. He loves this church. He loves the community that surrounds us and he deserves to be out here."
Tabora says his family plans to visit the Mecklenburg County jail on Thursday. Armando's scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Raleigh on August 18.
Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms.More>>