U.S. immigration policy prohibits Immigration and Customs Enforcement from entering religious centers. Churches, synagogues and mosques fall under this category. Some immigrants have managed to defer their deportation orders by seeking sanctuary in churches. Some have spent months — even years — in churches before they were granted relief and allowed to continue their lives freely in the U.S. Here are their stories:
Hilda and Ivan Ramirez
Ramirez, 28, currently lives with her son Ivan, 9, inside St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. The two feared for their lives and left San Marcos, Guatemala, for Texas in 2014. After crossing, they were arrested and detained in the Karnes Detention Center. They were then released after 11 months, and Hilda was forced to wear an ankle monitor. The two still remain in the Austin church and are fighting deportation orders.
Claudia Mariela Jurado
Jurado and her family fled to the United States after no longer being able to keep up with their weekly payments to gangs in El Salvador. She received a deportation order, but she refused to go back to what would likely be her death, so she cut off her ankle monitor and took her two children to Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Lilburn, Ga.
“I was desperate. I decided to stay for my kids. I feel safe now. I don’t want any benefits from the U.S. I just want to be able to stay,” she told The Daily Post.
In 2009, Franco left Guatemala after receiving death threats because of her LGBTQ activism. Upon arriving in Austin, she started the process of applying for a U Visa, available for victims of criminal activities. A self-identified lesbian, Franco created a life for herself in Austin, even running a food truck. Unfortunately, her lawyer forgot to file documents vital to her visa application, and as a result, was sent to a detention center in Arizona for nine months. Instead of adhering to her deportation order, she turned to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin for sanctuary.
Francisco Perez Cordova
In 2009, Perez Cordova was with his brother-in-law when the latter called the police to report a robbery he had witnessed. Perez Cordova was arrested for being a good samaritan. He was slapped with a deportation order despite living in Tucson, Ariz., for more than 20 years and having a clean record. To avoid deportation, he moved into the St. Francis of the Foothills United Methodist Church in 2014, where he stayed for 90 days until ICE chose to not pursue the deportation order.
Eleazar Misael Perez Cabrera
— Caitlin McGlade (@CaitMcGlade) November 21, 2014
In 2014, Eleazar Misael Perez Cabrera had no other choice but to make the music room of the Shadow Rock United Church in Phoenix, Ariz., his new home. After being racially profiled by a traffic cop, Perez was ordered to be deported. Perez and his family had left Guatemala nine years before that incident. He had been working as a roofer for the last six years, and his immediate family depended on his earnings to stay afloat. Finally, in February 2015, Perez was granted a six-month stay of removal.
Luis Lopez Acabal
In 2007, when Luis Lopez Acabal was 16, Guatemalan gangs gave him three options: Join their ranks, leave the country, or die. Lopez hopped on the next bus going north. Upon arriving in Phoenix, he found work as a janitor and maintenance worker at a school. He soon met his wife, Mayra, and became the adopted father to her young daughter. Then, one day while driving home from work, he was pulled over. A deportation order followed shortly thereafter. Lopez turned to the University Presbyterian Church in Tempe, Ariz., where he lived in a tiny room for 100 days. When it became apparent that Lopez was eligible for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), he was able to leave and return to his family.
Rosa Robles Loreto
One morning in September 2010, Rosa Robles Loreto was heading to her job as a house cleaner in Tucson, Ariz., when she changed lanes incorrectly. Instead of being issued a warning or a ticket, the cop who pulled her over called ICE. Robles, a Mexican woman who had lived in Tucson for the last 15 years and had raised a family there, was now facing deportation. As a result, she sought sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church, where she stayed for 461 days. After more than 15 months in limbo, her lawyer finally worked out a deal with immigration officials, who said they wouldn’t deport her.
“This is a wonderful thing. The struggle continues,” she told the group of 200 people who gathered outside the church the day she left.
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