(Español) More families are seeking refuge in churches in order to avoid being arrested and subsequently deported by officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As a general rule of thumb, ICE officers attempt to avoid detaining people in areas they deem “sensitive,” such as schools, hospitals, and places of worship. As a result, the number of people seeking refuge in churches across the country has risen from five people in 2016 to nearly 50 in 2018.
That is the situation the Thompson family has found themselves in in Philadelphia the last six months. In 2013, Clive and Oneita Thompson their asylum case. Having exhausted their appeals, the couple was faced with the prospect of returning to their native Jamaica, where gang members burned their crops and killed a family member. To them, that was not an option as they had five children they were raising in the United States, all either Legal Permanent Residents or citizens. This was during the Obama administration when the federal enforcement priorities were to remove dangerous criminals with little to no equity ahead of those who posed no threat and established a long presence in the country. Under the Trump administration, the policy has drastically changed to detain and remove anyone with no status, including people like the Thompsons. This left them with little choice but to abandon their home and lifestyle in New Jersey and seek refuge in a First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia. Their lives completely upended, they have attempted their best to keep moving forward, unable to even step foot outside the church much less walk their children to the bus stop for school. There is the constant threat that, should they walk outside, ICE officers could simply arrest them for removal from the country.
Fortunately, the Thompson’s oldest daughter is set to turn 21 and, should she naturalize and become a US citizen, she will be able petition for visas for her parents. Though, this process could still take up to a year.