Immigrant woman facing deportation enters sanctuary at Philly church

Immigrant woman facing deportation enters sanctuary at Philly church

As federal immigration enforcement has openly targeted sanctuary cities like Philadelphia for increased enforcement, an undocumented family on Wednesday publicly entered sanctuary at a local church.

A family of five undocumented immigrants from Mexico, mother Carmela Hernandez and her children Edwin, 9, Yoselin, 11, Keyri, 13, and Fidel, 15, entered their new home at the Church of the Advocate in Kensington on Wednesday morning with the support of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM). They plan to stay there “until they win a reprieve from deportation,” NSM said. 

“I am taking sanctuary to fight for my family, to protest our deportation orders and the injustices of the immigration systems,” Hernandez said in a statement. “Everybody deserves to live with dignity and safety.”

According to NSM, Hernandez’ family’s petition for asylum in the U.S. was denied, and they were issued a deportation order. The group said the family immigrated while fleeing “the violence of the U.S.-backed drug wars in Mexico,” saying that three close family members have lost their lives and Hernandez and her oldest daughter have been physically assaulted.

“Should Carmela and her children be deported, their lives will be in imminent danger,” NSM said in a statement.

As of Thursday, ICE said that Hernandez’ deportation order was standing.

“Carmela Apolonio Hernández, an unlawfully present citizen of Mexico, was apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2015. Ms. Hernández was enrolled in the agency’s Alternatives to Detention program while her immigration case was pending. She was subsequently ordered removed by an immigration judge Sept. 27, 2016,” ICE officials said via email. “In an exercise of discretion, ICE has allowed Ms. Hernandez to remain free from custody while finalizing her departure plans in accordance with the judge’s order.”

But Hernandez’ family may have reason to be optimistic: undocumented immigrants have twice entered sanctuary in Philly previously, and both left with positive outcomes.

In January 2015, immigrant Angela Navarro got a two-year stay on a deportation order she was facing just two months after she entered sanctuary at West Kensington Ministry. Javier Flores, a Philly resident since 1997, was in sanctuary for one year at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City. He left in October after his case was moved to the “deferred action” list. ICE’s sensitive locations policy says “enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided.”

Since President Trump rose to the White House in part on a wave of tough talk on immigration and promises to build a wall across the border with Mexico, Philly and other sanctuary cities have experienced a crackdown of arrests and detainments of immigrants. 

In September, 107 people were arrested in Philly, one-fifth of the total number detained in a nationwide raid dubbed “Operation Safe City,” which targeted sanctuary cities like Philly, such as Chicago, New York and L.A., which have in place policies limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration authorities. 

“ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities,” ICE acting director Tom Homan said at the time, going on to accuse sanctuary cities of “shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously attempted to cut Philly off from receiving a federal law enforcement grant worth some $2 million in retaliation for its sanctuary city policies, a move that was locked by a U.S. District Court judge.