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Ninth Undocumented Immigrant Joins Church Sanctuary Movement

Angela Navarro, a Honduran immigrant with a family of U.S. citizens, has been facing deportation for more than a decade. By moving into a church in North Philadelphia, she is adding to a growing movement of immigrants seeking refuge in churches across the country in defiance of federal deportation orders.

Posted on November 18, 2014, at 10:49 a.m. ET

Angela Navarro and her two children in front of West Kensington Ministry in North Philadelphia, where she will seek sanctuary from deportation.
Aidan Un / Via New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

Angela Navarro and her two children in front of West Kensington Ministry in North Philadelphia, where she will seek sanctuary from deportation.

Angela Navarro, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant from Honduras, moved into a Philadelphia church on Tuesday morning to seek sanctuary from deportation.

For 11 of the 12 years she has lived in the United States, Navarro has lived under the threat of a federal deportation order. But she is temporarily safe in the church, because Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has a 2011 memo prohibiting its agents from making arrests in sensitive places like churches and schools without special approval.

"I don't only want to stop one deportation," Navarro told BuzzFeed News. "I want all deportations to stop. There are many of us who are suffering."

Navarro's is the ninth sanctuary case this year in a growing movement of churches publicly providing refuge to undocumented people from deportation. So far, three people who sought sanctuary have won stays of removal or work permits allowing them to stay in the country legally.

Navarro says she will live with her husband and children in West Kensington Ministry, a Presbyterian church in North Philadelphia, until her deportation order is dropped. A cooperative of immigrant day laborers is voluntarily installing a bathroom in the church and building walls to create separate rooms for her and her family.

Navarro seems a good case for relief under President Obama's expected executive action sparing undocumented immigrants from deportation. Her husband and two young children are U.S. citizens. But Obama's action may not shield immigrants with standing deportation cases, meaning Navarro and others like her could be excluded.

Navarro says she has lived in constant fear for a decade. Her uncle was recently arrested and deported by ICE agents at her mother's house, where she had also been living.

"We've had to move four or five times, maybe more," she said. "My uncle and my brothers in law have all been deported. I'm afraid to go to my mother's house. I'm afraid to write my name down anywhere, in the hospital or in the kids' school, because I'm afraid immigration will use it to come find me."

This year's sanctuary movement sees itself as a revival of a similar movement in the 1980s that provided asylum to refugees from civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala.

The revival started earlier this year at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, the same church that sparked the movement in the 1980s. As The Daily Beast reported in June, an immigrant who had sought refuge there was recently granted a stay of removal and a work permit in the midst of public outcry fueled by his sanctuary case.

The original sanctuary movement "was a kind of underground railroad for people fleeing U.S.-backed violence in Central America," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer for New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. "Many of us, both immigrants and otherwise, worked in both movements. There are many people still in Philadelphia who are part of that legacy."

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