A family of Jamaican immigrants came to the United States in 2004, fleeing gang violence in their home country. Though they were denied asylum, they were allowed to stay in the country and permitted to work so long as they checked in periodically with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
During their time in America, the couple worked hard, paid taxes, and made a place for themselves and their children in the small town of Cedarville, New Jersey. They lived a quiet but happy life until August of 2018, when they got word from ICE that their stay of removal would not be extended, and that they were set to be deported within days.
Reaching out for help
The couple reached out to the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an organization that helps at-risk immigrants secure legal representation and shelter. New Sanctuary worked with a local church that agreed to house the family to prevent their removal. The Thompson family (Oneita and Clive, along with their two teenaged children, Christine and Timothy) moved initially into the First United Methodist Church in Germantown and then into Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia in September of 2018.
Though the children were American citizens and had the freedom to come and go from their sanctuary housing, Oneita and Clive were reluctant to leave the church grounds for fear they’d be apprehended by ICE agents and sent back to Jamaica. Their days in the church turned to weeks, and eventually to years.
Finally, some good news
The family spent a total of 843 days cloistered before the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed to reopen their initial asylum request. This effectively estopped the final notice of removal, allowing the family to stay in the country while the asylum appeal is pending. They haven’t been granted permanent residency through a Green Card, but the imminent threat of their removal is over.