PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An undocumented mother and her children walked into a North Philadelphia Church Wednesday in an act of defiance against a deportation order. The woman says the decision was a matter of life or death.
Leave by December 15th — or be deported — that was the order after Carmela Hernandez and her children ages 9, 11, 13 and 15 lost their asylum petition.
“I was being extorted and faced death threats, Hernandez told reporters and supporters of the New Sanctuary Movement today through an interpreter. “I can’t go back.”
Hernandez says Mexican drug dealers murdered three of her relatives. She says she and her oldest daughter were beaten. Hernandez says she was extorted by the drug dealers so she took her family and left Mexico for the US in 2015. She was sent to New Jersey, complete with a federal ankle bracelet for electronic monitoring, to await her asylum hearing. But the court denied her petition and issued a deportation order.
“The bracelet has been making noises,” says Hernandez, “I’ve been getting calls and asked to come in, but I know if I do go in I will be deported.”
So Hernandez spent the last week asking churches to take her and her children into sanctuary. The historic Church of the Advocate at 20th and Diamond Streets said yes.
“It was the right thing to do,” says Renee McKenzie, pastor of the church. The mother of two says deportation is clearly not an option for this family so she is standing in the Church Tradition of righteous resistance for civil and human rights.
“I could not return to a place where I was certain that they would face violence,” she says.
On how she feels about helping an individual defy the law, she had this to say…
“Perhaps that’s against the law of the federal government or the state government but it’s not against God’s law,” says McKenzie.
The Church of the Advocate joins a growing list of black Churches across the nation that are cross racial lines to help undocumented immigrants resist deportation orders. In the past, African-Americans and Latinos fought their individual civil rights battles individually, but in recent years, people of color have begun to band together.
“This is what we do,” says McKenzie, about Church of the Advocate, “it’s about helping those in the margins-“to protect the widows and the orphans and to make space for the oppressed.”
New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia supporters signed petitions offering support for the Hernandez’s to stay in the US. They will also offer support for the family of five, who will live in a classroom connected to the church for as long as it takes for the appeal. ICE typically will not enter into so-called “sensitive locations,” i.e., churches, hospitals and schools, to execute a deportation order. In recent months, immigration advocates feared a shift in policy- after ICE agents followed a 9-year-old undocumented girl with cerebral palsy into a hospital and waited for her to recover from surgery.