A growing number of illegal aliens are moving into America’s churches to find sanctuary and avoid being deported back to their home countries, media outlets are reporting.
In New York City, one illegal alien and her children are living in the Holyrood Episcopal Church, the Associated Press reported:
Amanda Morales sees her children off to school each day from the entrance of a gothic church, but she won’t even venture onto the sidewalk for fear of what may happen if she leaves the building where she has been a virtual prisoner for more than two months.
Morales has been living in two small rooms of the Holyrood Episcopal Church at the northern edge of Manhattan since August, shortly after immigration authorities ordered her deported to her homeland of Guatemala. She says she cannot go back to her country and does not want to leave her three kids, who are all U.S. citizens by birth, so she sought sanctuary at a house of worship.
“Being cooped up like this is starting to drive me crazy,” Morales said. “Some nights I hardly sleep.”
AP reported that at least two dozen illegal aliens are living in U.S. churches since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has started to enforce federal immigration law under President Donald Trump, with a 40 percent increase in arrests taking place since his election.
The AP said churches are considered “sensitive locations” and aren’t routinely patrolled by ICE.
Since 2014, at least 50 publicly known cases have emerged of people seeking sanctuary in churches for immigration-related reasons, according to Rev. Noel Anderson, a coordinator for the Church World Service, a New York organization that supports the sanctuary efforts, according to AP.
Of those, 30 have come up since Trump took office.
Eighteen of the 50 won legal reprieves, and their deportation orders were canceled, according to AP.
Morales was detained crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in 2004 and released with an order to appear before an immigration judge, who issued a removal, or deportation, order four months later.
But she defied the order and remained in the U.S. until she was rediscovered by authorities after she was involved in a car accident in 2012.
This past summer, she came to her appointment and was told to come back with a one-way ticket to Guatemala. At that point, she fled to the church with the help of a New Sanctuary Coalition, an interfaith group that helps immigrants.
More than 97,000 immigrants who live illegally in the U.S. were detained over the first eight months of this year, a 43 percent increase over the same period in 2016, AP reported, citing ICE data.
In Amherst, Massachusetts, Lucio Perez has been living at the First Congregational Church since October 18 after he was ordered to return to Guatemala.
Perez was granted five stays of deportation and checked in for regular visits with ICE, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported:
But after President Donald Trump took office in January, Perez’s lawyer Matt Cameron said, noncriminal cases like Perez’s were prioritized, and in July he was denied another stay. Authorities ordered him to purchase a ticket to Guatemala in October.
Perez’s dress slacks conceal the bulky electronic monitoring bracelet that ICE put on his ankle, but its weight is a constant reminder that his movements are tracked. That’s why he doesn’t leave the walls of his new home, where he can do nothing but wait: for immigration officials to reopen his case, for community members to bring him food, for his family to make the drive from Springfield to visit him.
Perez, 35, has been in the country illegally for years, arriving here at 18. He now has a wife and children, which the Gazette reported are “the loved ones he moved to the United States to give a better life.”
ICE arrested 50 people in late September in Massachusetts over four days of nationwide enforcement as part of an operation called “Safe City” focused on so-called sanctuary cities like Northampton and Amherst where local law enforcement cooperation with ICE is limited, the Gazette reported.
“Since Mr. Perez has failed to comply with the judge’s order to leave the U.S., he is now an ICE fugitive, and is subject to arrest when encountered,” ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said in a statement. “If arrested, ICE will then carry out his removal from the United States, per the court’s order.”
Walls also referred to Perez’s “numerous convictions for misdemeanor offenses” but declined to say what those convictions were for, citing “privacy rules.”
First Congregational Church’s pastor, the Rev. Vicki Kemper, has been familiar with the sanctuary movement since its beginnings in the 1980s when she was a newspaper reporter in Tucson, Arizona, according to the Gazette.
“Jesus said to love your neighbors as you love yourselves, and whenever you care for the least of these — people who are marginalized, oppressed, poor — you’re caring for me,” Kemper said. “So we take those scriptural injunctions and tenets of our faith very seriously.”