A Presbyterian church in Philadelphia became the newest place of worship Tuesday to provide sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant with final deportation orders. Angela Navarro, an undocumented immigrant who crossed the border more than ten years ago, said that she will refuse to leave church property until immigration officials cancel her deportation order. The act of civil disobedience comes at a time when President Obama promised to act on immigration relief for millions of undocumented immigrants, an action that Navarro and other faith leaders believe would protect Navarro from deportation.
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. She has since gotten married to a U.S. citizen, but because of her deportation order, she has been unable to legalize her status in the country. Both her two children are also U.S. citizens. Her family will live with her in sanctuary, though as U.S. citizens, they are free to leave church grounds.
In a video released Tuesday, Navarro said, “I am tired of living in the fear and darkness of being deported. I am taking sanctuary, which means that I will live in a church without leaving, leaving behind my life, my home, my work to fight so the government withdraws my deportation order. We demand that President Obama keeps his promise and end all deportations.”
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. Organizers at the New Sanctuary Movement hope that officials will keep to that promise, in light of a three-year-old ICE directive that prioritizes the deportation of immigrants who pose security risks, over immigrants like Navarro who have strong family connections or a clear criminal record.
According to the NSM press release, Navarro’s move into sanctuary makes her the first immigrant with a final deportation order to do so on the east coast, and the ninth recent immigrant to do so who has made national headlines. Other immigrants have taken sanctuary in Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon. More than a dozen places of worship have committed to provide physical sanctuary to immigrants, while an estimated 300 congregations are willing to provide help with the sanctuary movement to immigrants.
Organizers hope that Navarro could potentially qualify for deportation reprieve under an expected executive action to grant deportation reprieve to millions of undocumented immigrants before the end of the year. President Obama’s promised immigration relief would likely include extending deportation relief to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children (Navarro has two) and undocumented immigrants who have strong ties to the community and been here for at least ten years (Navarro has been here for 11 years).