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A Guatemalan immigrant and mother to two young children has moved into a church in order to avoid deportation in New York City, joining an estimated 40 people who are taking solace around the U.S. within places of worship.
According to the New York Times, Aura Hernandez, 37, and her 15-month-old daughter Camila moved into a former office at the Fourth Universalist Society on Central Park West two weeks ago. As part of its policies, the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) avoids enforcing immigration laws at “sensitive sites,” churches included.
Hernandez is the second person in the city to publicly seek church sanctuary, the first being Amanda Morales Guerra, who moved into a Washington Heights-area church with her three children, all under 10 years old, in August. With help from other churches, the church congregation will feed Hernandez, do her laundry, and help care for her child. Hernandez’s 10-year-old son Daniel visits her on the weekends, and will move in with her when the school year ends. For now, he remains with his father, Hernandez’s husband, who is also undocumented.
“I’m not just struggling with this situation under this administration. I’ve been struggling since 2013. Before, not everything was said, but now they shamelessly tell you things. ‘From up on high, they are requiring me,’ they say, ‘to get rid of you,'” Hernandez said in an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, but I’m certain that it’s not going to be too long, because I’m going to speak out. I’m not going to let them get away with this any longer.”
Hernandez’s move, like other immigrants currently living in church sanctuaries, is a final effort to avoid deportation in order to give her time to exercise all legal opportunities to establish permanent residency. Hernandez was immediately picked up by the border patrol after crossing into Texas with her 9-year-old nephew in 2005. She had fled Guatemala to get away from an abusive partner who said he would kill her, and other violence that took her family members.
Hernandez, 24 at the time, said she was sexually abused by a border patrol officer during the three days she was in detention. On the third day, she said another officer released her and her nephew, brought them to a bus stop, handed her some papers, and welcomed her to the U.S.
When she got to her sister’s New York apartment, she put the papers, written in English, into a drawer, never reading them because of her experience. She met with a psychologist, began working, and met her husband. But in 2013, an officer saw she had no documentation after stopping her for a traffic violation, and reported her to immigration agents. She then learned she had a deportation order against her for failing to appear at a 2005 court date in Texas.
She’s actively checked in with ICE from 2013 to 2017, but was told she would have to follow her deportation order last year. Hernandez also filed for a special visa for crime victims, but her appeal was denied because so many years had passed. New Sanctuary Coalition seeks to reopen her cause because of the border patrol assault and violence Hernandez may be vulnerable to in Guatemala.
In a statement to the New York Daily News, ICE said Hernandez didn’t “report as required and is now considered an ICE fugitive.” But for Hernandez, she ultimately hopes to recover her American life for the sake of her children.
"She cannot come out because she will be kidnapped," Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz said, while participating in a silent Jericho walk for Aura Hernandez, who has taken sanctuary from ICE. Her 10yo old, Daniel, walks alongside Ruiz holding a sign "Please don't deport my mommy" pic.twitter.com/QetRMkQ54a— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) March 29, 2018
On Thursday, New Sanctuary Coalition led a march around Trump International Hotel and Tower, protesting Hernandez’s deportation. Her son, Daniel, helped carry a sign that read, “Please don’t deport my mommy.”
“They abused me physically, psychologically, and now they want to separate me from my kids,” Hernandez told the Times. “And that I will not stand for.”
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.