Lives of anx­i­ety: Im­mi­grants con­tinue to seek sanc­tu­ary in U.S. churches

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY CLAU­DIA TORRENS

NEW YORK | 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.

Ms. 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,” the 33-year-old said on a re­cent morn­ing as her two old­est chil­dren headed off to school es­corted by a vol­un­teer and she stayed be­hind with her youngest. “Some nights I hardly sleep.”

At least two dozen im­mi­grants have sought sanc­tu­ary at U.S. churches since the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency stepped up ar­rests by 40 per­cent un­der Pres­i­dent Trump.

Ms. Mo­rales pro­vided a glimpse of her ex­pe­ri­ence to The Associated Press, de­scrib­ing a life of con­stant anx­i­ety that in­volves stay­ing hid­den all day ex­cept for a few furtive trips to a nearby den­tist and oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ances on the church steps.

She has rea­son to be anx­ious. As a fugi­tive, she could be ar­rested at any mo­ment, though the agency con­sid­ers churches to be “sen­si­tive lo­ca­tions” and gen­er­ally does not pur­sue peo­ple in­side.

Ms. Mo­rales stays close to the door­way as her kids head off to school, hold­ing her tod­dler son’s bot­tle as he plays in the wooden pews. It is the only glimpse of sun­light she will get all day.

Most of her life re­volves around a small church li­brary where there are two bunk beds for the fam­ily of four to share and an ad­ja­cent room with a re­frig­er­a­tor, small ta­ble, a few chairs and a mi­crowave oven. They eat sim­ple meals, a lot of mac­a­roni and cheese or chichar­ron and yuca.

The stately church is empty on a week­day morn­ing. Ms. Mo­rales spends much of the day chat­ting with parish­ioners who come from the mostly Latino neigh­bor­hood.

Three days a week, while her daugh­ters are at school, vol­un­teers give her English lan­guage classes while 2-year-old David watches car­toons on her phone. The older girls — 10-year-old Dulce and 8-year-old Daniela — come back in the af­ter­noon with their es­cort, and the fam­ily tries their best to pass the time in­side.

“I never thought this would hap­pen to me,” Ms. Mo­rales said at one point, shak­ing her head sadly.

Since 2014 at least 50 pub­licly known cases have emerged of peo­ple seek­ing sanc­tu­ary in churches for im­mi­gra­tionre­lated rea­sons, ac­cord­ing to the Rev. Noel An­der­son, a co­or­di­na­tor for the Church World Ser­vice, a New York or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports the sanc­tu­ary ef­forts. Of those, 30 have come up since Mr. Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary and pledged a harder line on im­mi­gra­tion.

Eigh­teen of the 50 even­tu­ally won le­gal re­prieves, and their de­por­ta­tion or­ders were can­celed. More than half are still wait­ing in limbo like Ms. Mo­rales and fear­ing that they could be picked up sud­denly, just as sev­eral im­mi­grants in Vir­ginia were when they got ar­rested in Fe­bru­ary while leav­ing a home­less shel­ter at a Methodist church.

Mr. Trump has said that any­one in the United States il­le­gally is sub­ject to de­por­ta­tion, un­like un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who said im­mi­grants with long­stand­ing ties to the United States and clean records were not a pri­or­ity.

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, ac­cord­ing to ICE data.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

David Car­va­jal and his sis­ters, all U.S.-born, live in a church in the Bronx with their mother Amanda Mo­rales, an il­le­gal Gu­atemalan im­mi­grant fear­ful of de­por­ta­tion.

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