Amanda Morales and her family (246694)
Credit: Bill Moore photo

“Sad,” said Amanda Morales-Guerra to the AmNews about Donald Trump. “Especially knowing my situation. I desperately hoped that he wouldn’t win the election.”

When Guerra finished speaking, she had tears in her eyes. For five years, the Guatemalan native has lived under the threat of deportation and separation from her children, even though she hasn’t committed any crimes, violent or nonviolent.

Sitting on a pew inside an empty Holyrood Episcopal Church in Washington Heights Wednesday morning, Guerra, through a translator, discussed how she’s managing her day-to-day existence.

“My children are scared,” said Guerra, the mother of three who made her way to the U.S. in 2004 (all of her children were born in the U.S.). “But it hasn’t been that big of a problem until this year. I don’t know how this specific problem is going to affect the upcoming school year.” Guerra’s the first public sanctuary case in New York State since the 1980s.

Last week, Guerra, sought sanctuary in Holyrood after being told to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for deportation. Tuesday, federal officials informed her that a temporary, 90-day, stay had been issued and during that time ICE would review her case.

Before this development, Guerra worked in a factory constructing chords that would be used for cellos. Now she relies on the kindness of the church and the community for shelter, child care and food. Her children had just come back from a doctor’s appointment when she spoke to the AmNews.

It all began five years ago when Guerra got into a car accident. When asked to provide documentation, she could only show her Guatemalan passport. Although she’s dealt with the threat of deportation ever since—immigration officials have been keeping close watch over her—the rhetoric and practices of the Trump administration have made that threat a reality.

Guerra has found support among high-profile public officials. Monday, at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, a news conference led by New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and other elected officials not only involved declarations of support but also the delivery of an I589 form to immigration officials at 26 Federal Plaza. The I589 form is a request for asylum.

During the news conference, Rodriguez compared Guerra’s plight to Rosa Parks.

“When she was told to sit in the back of the bus, Rosa Parks said no,” said Rodriguez to reporters. “When Amanda was told that she had to get a flight back to Guatemala, a nation that is infested with a lot of drugs and crime, she said no … It is unfair to ask Amanda [to] get a ticket and go back to [her] country.”

New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat attended Monday’s news conference as well, calling any meeting with ICE agents a “dead-end tunnel” for undocumented immigrants.

“This case, which the councilman has clearly said, is a test case,” said Espaillat. “It’s a landmark case. It reveals the inconsistencies … the deep and irregular inconsistencies of the Trump government. Donald Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, go to Suffolk County in Long Island to explain that they’re gonna launch a war against MS-13. Yet they want to send Amanda back to Guatemala where there is a strong presence of MS-13 and where her family members have been in clear and imminent danger.”

According to the Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz of the New Sanctuary Coalition, it’s not the laws or edicts that have changed to make undocumented immigrants feel afraid. To him, it’s the rhetoric of the current administration that gives enforcement officers license and stokes fear in undocumented immigrants.

“There is nothing new in terms of the law,” said Ruiz to the AmNews. “It’s the culture and rhetoric of the present administration and how it’s being interpreted. We wouldn’t have a Trump if we didn’t have an Obama administration, the Bushes, Reagan and the Clintons. It’s a continuation of that policy from many years ago.”

The New Sanctuary Coalition was launched 10 years ago. It’s an interfaith solidarity network of churches, temples and synagogues that advocate on behalf of undocumented immigrants and provide sanctuary. Ruiz told the AmNews that coalition is “standing on the shoulders of the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, when refugees were coming from Guatemala and El Salvador mainly and they were fleeing the worst.”

He added, “People were sending them back without even listening to them. We, as communities of faith, have a lot of resources and our tradition, at its core, is radical hospitality. Not only opening our churches, homes and spaces, but our hearts.”

Guerra told the AmNews that she fled Guatemala for greener pastures up north. “There was poverty and crime in Guatemala,” she said, “and I was scared so I came to the U.S. because this is the land of many possibilities.”

She also told the AmNews that she’s happy that so many people are fighting on her behalf but hopes the federal government sees things her way and lets her stay with the community she’s called home for more than a decade and with her children, who know the United States of America as their only home.

“Thanks to God that I have other people helping me, but it’s a big difference,” said Guerra. “I was living more free before, but I’m more restricted now.”

During Monday’s news conference, New York City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa spoke about an America that was the land of opportunity. She spoke of an America that would give anyone a shot as long as they worked hard and did right by the people close to them.

“That America is a falsehood if Amanda is deported,” said de la Rosa.