Officials Halt Deportation Of Undocumented Immigrant Who Hid In A Church For 58 Days

CREDIT: Aidan Un

Angela (center), an undocumented immigrant, is taking sanctuary at a Philadelphia-area church.

Two days before President Obama announced his executive action last year, Angela Navarro, an undocumented immigrant with final deportation orders, took sanctuary in a Philadelphia-area church to hide from immigration officials. But earlier this week, immigration officials halted her deportation, so for the first time in 58 days, Navarro will leave the church on Saturday.

“I feel really happy and obviously everything is totally different for me now,” Navarro told ThinkProgress on Friday. She said in a press statement released earlier by the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) of Philadelphia, “I’m excited to keep fighting against all deportations. We won because of the work of God and New Sanctuary Movement. I won with the support of so many people, my family, my friends and community, press pressure, clergy, and politicians in Philadelphia.”

Navarro’s lawyer Patricia Luber said that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency granted a two-year stay of removal, an exercise of immigration agents’ prosecutorial discretion to defer enforcement on her deportation order. As it stands, Navarro’s deportation is not “formally canceled,” Luber said, it’s simply a temporary “protection from deportation.” But the temporary extension would give enough time for Luber to file a motion to reopen Navarro’s deportation court proceedings in front of an immigration judge. Luber said that ICE looked at a “balance of all the positive factors versus negative factors, Navarro’s family ties, and whether she is an enforcement priority” in determining whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion to issue the stay of removal.

Luber added that it’s not “uncommon” for people in similar categories as Navarro’s to receive prosecutorial discretion of this kind, especially if people have strong family ties, have established roots in the country, and are not high enforcement priorities. And as a series of memos issued by the Obama administration show, immigration officials have been asked since at least 2011 to go after criminal immigrants.

Because Navarro’s husband is a U.S. citizen, she will soon be eligible to apply for a green card. “Winning the stay of removal was the absolute critical first step to getting legal status,” NSM member Nicole Kligerman, who translated for Navarro, said. “And perhaps most importantly, she won’t be deportable.” Navarro can now access a Social Security card and work permit. She would also be allowed to apply for a driver’s license.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have an unofficial policy not to raid places of worship, playgrounds, and schools, only intervening if the immigrant is a threat to national security or public safety.

Navarro, an undocumented Honduran-born parish leader at the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia, was apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border more than ten years ago at the age of 17 as she was fleeing violence. After her border apprehension, NSM organizers said that she was given a 120-day voluntary departure order by an immigration court. She did not leave the country at the time and received a final deportation order as a result. She married a U.S. citizen, but she has been unable to legalize her status in the country.

Navarro said that she took sanctuary because immigration officials had been searching for her “the entire time … and we had to change houses to avoid getting caught.”

Navarro was one of about nine immigrants to publicly seek sanctuary in a place of worship last year. When she took sanctuary, she had hoped that Obama would act on an executive action that prioritized the deportation of criminal immigrants over people like her. Obama’s executive action also extends temporary legal presence and work authorization to parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. According to the New York Times, “since last summer, three immigrants in sanctuary have won government reprieves and two have left their churches because they felt safe, coalition spokesman Sidney Traynham said. Four besides Navarro remain in refuge in churches in Denver, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.”

In 2014, more than a dozen places of worship committed to providing physical sanctuary to immigrants, while an estimated 300 congregations stated willingness to provide help with the sanctuary movement to immigrants, in a revival of the Sanctuary Movement that began in the early 1980s.