A New Mexico-based Quaker church announced Tuesday that it would become the first place of worship in Albuquerque to provide sanctuary to an immigrant grandmother at risk of deportation.
During a press conference at the Albuquerque Friends Meeting House (Quakers), faith advocates explained that they would begin providing a place on church premises for Emma, a Honduran immigrant with incomplete immigration paperwork.
Emma took sanctuary after she was too scared to show up for a routine check-in at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency last week. Because ICE had detained and arrested her once before in 2010, she was afraid that she would be permanently detained this time, a situation that many immigrants are increasingly finding themselves in recently.
Emma, who did not reveal her last name at the media event, has been in the United States for 26 years. She entered the country legally and applied for political asylum. Roderick DeAguer, her lawyer, told conference attendees that she never received a notice for a court date so an immigration court issued a ruling in absentia. She only found out that she had a pending deportation case in 2010 when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested her at her home.
“Seeing that they detain a lot of people when they go to their appointments, there is fear and a feeling of helplessness in the country,” Emma explained at the conference. “It was not an option going to my appointment, being detained and being far away from my lawyer, my husband, and my community.”
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Both of Emma’s husband and daughter are U.S. citizens. Her husband Robert is in the process of filing paperwork to adjust her immigration status. Through tears, Robert, who also chose to withhold his last name, said that her rising medical bills from cancer treatments and immigration paperwork have put them in a financial bind.
“I had to give up my Harley,” Robert joked, while choking up on tears. “That’s how much she means to me.”
But until she can get her immigration status sorted out, Emma is in legal limbo since she is in violation of immigration law. Under a series of new executive orders issued by the Trump administration that makes immigration law violations a deportable offense, her fear of ICE is well-founded.
The ICE agency has long advised its field officers to abstain from detaining and arresting immigrants in sensitive locations, including houses of worship, schools, and hospitals so as not to disturb the daily activities of those places. So far, the ICE agency has not physically breached church doors, a tenuous tradition that these Quakers hope will continue in Emma’s case. But they have previously arrested immigrants leaving a church-run hypothermia shelter, and lured an immigrant out of church using deceptive tactics.
A growing number of faith coalitions have responded to the Trump administration’s harsh anti-immigrant policies by opening their doors to house immigrants.
“We believe that sanctuary is a manifestation of faith and action,” Tina Kachele, the clerk at the Albuquerque Friends Meeting House, explained. “We’re following on the tradition in the faith community, on our own tradition as Quakers, and our more recent work in the last couple of years.”
Counting Emma, the Quakers of Albuquerque is now the eighteenth place of worship that’s actively housing immigrants or immigrant families at risk of deportation across the country, Sayrah Namaste, Director of American Friends Service Committee, said at the conference. The Quakers of Albuquerque have been involved in various forms of sanctuary since 1983.