How Does It Feel to Take Refuge From Deportation in a Church?

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 16, 2018

As the Trump administration sets policy and practice that kicks former President Barack Obama’s immigration policy into overdrive, many people with undocumented immigration status have sought refuge in jurisdictions that offer them protection from deportation. Now, a “small but growing” number of people have turned to places of worship for that protection. An article published by The Nation yesterday (March 15)—“It Has Been 210 Days Since Amanda Morales Last Saw the Sun”—is the latest installment of the Finding Sanctuary series, which recounts the story of one such woman.

Amanda Morales walked into into Holyrood Church–Iglesia Santa Cruz in New York City on August 17, 2017, and she has not left the confines of the church since. The move from her Long Island, New York, home came a few weeks after she received an order from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that aimed to send her back to her native Guatemala, which she left to escape gang violence.

Photographer Cinthya Santos Briones and writers Laura Gottesdiener and Malav Kanuga discuss the idea behind Morales’ move to the church with her three children, who are all United States citizens:

The operating theory is that the federal government will not arrest people inside a church (or synagogue or mosque). It’s an idea that dates back to the original sanctuary movement of the 1980s, but it’s seen a resurgence in recent years, expanding in unhappy tandem with President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants.

The article gives an inside look at Morales’ life inside the church, which is marked by isolation:

Because Amanda cannot leave the church without risking arrest, she lives a life of virtual captivity. She sees the sun only indirectly, filtered through windows. And she has never visited her daughters’ new elementary school. Now that the asylum case she led recently has stalled, a stubborn despair has settled around her. “I’m so worried,” she says of the possibility of having to return to Guatemala. “You know I’d be in danger. It terrifies me.”

Head over to The Nation for more of Morales’ story, including a photo essay that exposes the realities of raising a family in the shadow of fear.