La familia al enterarse de la noticia de que puede salir de santuario. (Foto cortesía)

Philadelphia, EE.UU.-  Carmela Apolonio Hernández and her four children will leave sanctuary after ICE announced that she “is not a deportation priority.” Carmela and her children have been living in sanctuary in Philadelphia churches since 2017 under threat of imprisonment, deportation, and family separation by ICE. While Carmela and her family will continue the fight for immigration status, ICE’s change in position means that the family can safely leave sanctuary without fear of deportation. Carmela and her children will publicly leave the Germantown Mennonite Church on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

This victory is a testament to Carmela and her children’s bravery and tireless fight. The family knocked on church doors in Philadelphia until they connected to New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. Joining with Free Migration Project, Church of the Advocate and then Germantown Mennonite Church, the family’s strength, hope, and vision of freedom has mobilized and inspired thousands of supporters. Over three years, this broad community has held protests, made thousands of calls, held weekly vigils, and never given up.

“I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off the shoulders of my family and me,” said Carmela. “I am grateful for the community of support and sanctuary that we have been able to build during more than three years of struggle. They are all my family now. We still have to fight for my U-visa but I can wait for the approval of my case breathing fresh air.”

Carmela and her children will continue their fight to obtain protection from deportation outside of sanctuary. While the visa petitions of Carmela’s oldest children Fidel and Keyri for victims of serious crimes were put on an expedited track last year, the family will continue to push for their approval outside of sanctuary.  As we celebrate this victory, Carmela is asking elected officials and the community for support to claim the next victory- to obtain stable legal status in the U.S.

“After nearly 40 months in sanctuary, Carmela and her family are free,” said Rev. John Bergen, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church. “Years of praying, pushing, and organizing together have shaken the powers and principalities. Carmela has been resolute in her commitment to her freedom and the freedom of her children, and God has never abandoned her in her struggle. We pray that this victory opens the door for more victories, until every person can live without fear of deportation.”

David Bennion, executive director of Free Migration Project and Carmela’s lawyer said, “Carmela and her children fought for their rights and freedom for over three years, and thanks to their courage and the love and support of the community, they will finally be free again.”

Carmela and her children fled Mexico in 2015 after three close family members were killed by a drug cartel. Carmela applied for asylum, but her application was wrongly denied. The family was targeted by ICE and threatened with deportation. Last year, Carmela Apolonio Hernández and three of her four children contracted COVID-19 while living in the Germantown Mennonite Church. A broad community has come together to support Carmela’s family, including Germantown Mennonite Church, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Free Migration Project and the National Sanctuary Collective.

New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing congregations to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status. 

Free Migration Project is a nonprofit organization that represents immigrant clients in their legal proceedings, provides legal support and training to organizers, and advocates for fair and open immigration laws.

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