Jamaican couple hid in American church for 843 days until the expulsion order was revoked
According to CNN on the 22nd, a couple from Jamaica took refuge in two churches in Philadelphia for 843 days to escape the pursuit of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The couple, Oneita and Clive Thompson, also changed a church to hide during their stay. Fearing deportation and afraid to leave the church, they eat, bathe and sleep in the church.
“I was scared to the porch at first,” Onita, 48, told CNN.
While there is no explicit law prohibiting ICE from entering “sensitive places” such as churches to expel undocumented persons, the agency said such enforcement actions are generally avoided.
After many attempts by the family, the U.S. federal government reversed the expulsion order in mid-December.
On the 21st local time, the Thompsons were finally freed.
It is reported that Onita and Clive, 61, left Jamaica with their children in 2004. Onita said at that time that her brother was killed, and Clive was threatened by the gang.
Although the U.S. government refused to provide asylum, they were allowed to stay in the United States, obtained a work permit, and registered regularly with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
Onita said they settled in a small town in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and lived a “quiet life” with seven children. Until August 2018, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Administration under the Trump administration told the Thompsons that they would not extend their stay and asked them to leave the United States.
Onita, Clive and their two children (18 and 14 years old, respectively, are American citizens) moved to Methodist Church, and later moved to the Divine Union Church in September. While the children come and go freely, a step out of church means a one-way ticket back to Jamaica for the couple.
During these 843 days, ICE repeatedly rejected their request for permanent residence and continued to enforce the expulsion order, Onita said.
“We have no criminal record, we work, pay taxes, volunteer, and I’ve spent nearly 14 years caring for the elderly in this country,” she said.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Thompsons filed a motion with the Immigration Appeals Board (BIA) of the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen their asylum case.
After receiving two written statements from Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, U.S. lawmakers and about 200 letters from church and community members, ICE decided to reopen their asylum cases.
ICE officials said that after a decision issued by the BIA, the Thompsons were no longer subject to the final expulsion order and no longer had to worry about expulsion.
However, although they will not be deported, the Thompsons did not obtain permanent residence.