PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An undocumented woman from Mexico who’s been holed up in a North Philadelphia church sent her four children to school for the first time in Philadelphia.
The decision comes with risk.
Camela Hernandez and her children, Fidel, 15, Keyri, 13, Yoseline, 11, and Edwin, 9, are all under a deportation order. To avoid detention by federal authority, they chose to go into sanctuary inside of the Church of the Advocate at 18th and Diamond Streets, a place ICE agents typically will not go.
“I want you to understand that they are children,” Hernandez said through an interpreter, as she explained to supporters that staying inside for weeks has been especially hard on the children.
The family of five were denied asylum. They arrived at the San Diego Port of Entry in 2015 seeking asylum and ended up moving to Vineland, New Jersey.
Hernandez says two of her family members were murdered by Mexican drug gangs. She and her daughter were assaulted and threatened. Hernandez told KYW Newsradio last month that she fears for her life.
“I cannot go back,” she told KYW Newsradio.
The four children had been enrolled in school in New Jersey until they went into sanctuary. Hernandez feared they’d get behind in their academics so she made the risky decision to allow them to go back she decided to send them to school.
“Un poco nervioso y feliz,” says Yosaline about being nervous and happy. She and her siblings had been enrolled in New Jersey schools until they went into sanctuary five weeks ago. Although they take boxing classes twice a week and capoeira, a form of martial arts, once a week, staying inside has been taxing.
“It’s boring,” she said through an interpreter. “My hope is that the movement catches on so we can be free to leave.”
Hernandez, who is wearing a federal monitoring ankle bracelet, stayed inside the church as city officials, including Councilwoman Helen Gym and state Rep. Rabb, as well as a member of the United Federation of Teachers, escorted the children to school alongside members of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
“Yoseline, Edwin, Keyri, Fidel are going to do what every single child in Philadelphia has the right to do,” Gym told Hernandez. “This city is committed to your children.”
Gym and other supporters of the family asked the public to call their congressperson and senator and demand immigration reform, a DACA bill and to end the effort to build a border wall.
School District of Philadelphia superintendent Dr. William Hite said in a statement:
“Every child has the right to access a free and public education that develops their fullest potential. Our schools are safe places to learn, and we welcome every child and family with open arms regardless of background. We wish our new students all the best as they begin their first day in our public schools.”
Under the Trump administration, immigrant communities have seen increased raids. However, ICE policy is to avoid sensitive locations like churches, schools and hospitals. The Hernandez family and their supporter hope that policy will continue.