What to Know
- Amanda Morales-Guerra, who has lived illegally in the U.S. since 2004, has been in sanctuary in a Washington Heights church
- Her three children, ages 9, 8 and 2, are all U.S. citizens
- City and federal officials say Morales-Guerra will not leave the church until her situation is solved
The undocumented mother of three who has been in sanctuary at a Washington Heights church since last week has gotten a small victory.
Federal immigration authorities have agreed to review an appeal for Amanda Morales-Guerra, a young mother of three who is seeking to avoid deportation to her native Guatemala, where she faced death threats.
"I feel very happy because I know this is the beginning but it's not the end," she told News 4 in Spanish from inside the Holyrood Church.
Morales-Guerra may be able to stay for up to 90 days while authorities review her appeal.
Morales-Guerra, who has lived illegally in the U.S. since 2004, said she decided to seek sanctuary at the church last week rather than show up to her appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Morales said ICE told her during her last appointment this month that she would be deported and needed to buy a one-way plane ticket to Guatemala.
On Monday, elected officials, from councilmembers to state senators to U.S. representatives, and community advocates stood with the family and attended a special prayer service for Morales-Guerra. Her children, Dulce Carvajal, 9, Daniela Carvajal, 8, and David Carvajal, 2, all U.S. citizens, have been by her side.
"Sometimes I feel sad because I don't want my mom to get deported," said Dulce.
"My mommy, hopefully they won't send her," said Daniela.
Pastor Luis Barrios acknowledged that Morales-Guerra "has a lot of limitations" inside the church.
"She can't move out of the building," said Barrios. "She can be arrested. It's like being in prison."
Morales-Guerra, 33, said she left Guatemala fleeing violence. She lives in Massapequa and works at a cell-making factory in Farmingdale. She pays her taxes, has no criminal record and regularly showed up to her ICE appointments before last week.
She told News 4 in Spanish Monday she used to go grocery shopping, take her children to the park, and "do everything" for her children. She also said last week she does not want to leave her children alone and helpless.
Outside the federal courthouse Monday, a rally was held in protest of President Trump's crackdown on immigration. Attorney Geoff Kagan Trenchard said Morales-Guerra is a "vital member of the community." He said she faces "imminent danger" if she returns to Guatemala.
The community is stepping up to buy food, beds and take the kids to the park in the meantime. Morales-Guerra is hopeful she and her children will remain a family in the country they call home.
Under Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, detentions of non-authorized immigrants rose 37 percent over the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2016. The administration says it is focused on those with criminal records, but the number of detainees who do not have a criminal history has more than doubled.
ICE considers schools or churches "sensitive locations" in which enforcement action is generally avoided although may occur "in limited circumstances," like under special orders from supervisors, ICE's website says.
An ICE spokeswoman in New York said she could not provide information about someone who is not in ICE custody.
Holyrood belongs to the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, an interfaith network that helps immigrants.
It is not clear how many immigrants are currently living in churches as a way to hide from immigration authorities but several cases have been reported. About 800 churches in the U.S. have agreed to be sanctuaries, up from about 400 a year ago, according to Church World Service, an organization that helps immigrants obtain legal status in the U.S.