Woman facing deportation wins reprieve after months in Philadelphia church

By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – An illegal immigrant who has taken sanctuary in a Philadelphia church since November to avoid deportation has won a two-year reprieve, U.S. immigration authorities said on Thursday.

Angela Navarro, 28, has lived in the church as part of a national campaign of civil disobedience aimed at pressuring President Barack Obama on immigration reform.

A mother of two children who were born in the United States, she was caught trying to cross the border when she was 16. She was born in Honduras.

She has defied a final deportation order for more than 10 years, avoiding authorities as she worked as a cook and married a U.S. citizen.

“It’s going to be totallydifferent. I can move around without hiding myself,” said Navarro, whose husband and children moved into the church with her. “I can live a normal life.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Navarro’s reprieve.

“After conducting a comprehensive review of Angela Navarro’s case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has chosen to exercise prosecutorial discretion in this matter and has granted a Stay of Removal,” ICE said in a statement.

The two-year reprieve comes after a massive campaign on her behalf that included letters of support from U.S. Representative Bob Brady, a Democrat from Philadelphia, as well as 11 members of Philadelphia’s city council, a state senator and a petition drive that counted 6,100 signers.

“I was impressed with the amount of support she got,” said Navarro’s attorney, Patricia Luber. “It speaks to her level of involvement in the community. She truly is a member of her community.”

Navarro was the ninth illegal immigrant to take refuge in a church recently as part of what activists call the New Sanctuary Movement.

Organizers offer sanctuary in churches because federal guidelines prohibit arrests in sensitive areas unless there is a threat to public safety or national security. Four of those nine remain in churches, with the rest having been granted reprieves.

Churches in Chicago and the Arizona cities of Phoenix and Tucson have begun sheltering immigrants, and organizers plan to include churches or synagogues in 10 cities.

Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer for the New Sanctuary Movement, said the reprieve gives Navarro the opportunity to obtain a work permit and a green card.

Shortly after Navarro began living in the church, Obama issued an executive action that would ease the threat of deportation for 4.7 million illegal immigrants.

(Editing by Frank McGurty, Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh)