Free as a Bird

Immigrant woman wins freedom after taking sanctuary in Germantown church for 554 days

On March 12, a Honduran mother who took sanctuary from U.S. immigration authorities walked free some 18 months later.

“I feel like a bird in the sky with my wings spread. I am so happy that I won my freedom,” Suyapa Reyes said after walking out of The First United Methodist Church of Germantown, at High Street on Germantown Avenue, before taking a celebratory march with supporters and her four children.

Suyapa and her four children took sanctuary in Germantown in September 2018, along with a Jamaican couple, who remain in sanctuary fighting a deportation order against them.

Suyapa was able to leave because Federal Authorities moved her case to the deferred action list after she was approved for a U-Visa, which is granted to victims of crime or their family members. The visa cannot yet be issued due to an annual 10,000 U-visa cap, according to New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group.

Suyapa came to the U.S. in 2014 fleeing violence in her native country.  She suffered domestic violence in her native country and the U.S., and was certified for a U-Visa by the Philadelphia Police Department, according to her lawyer, David Bennion, founder and executive director of the Free Migration Project, another nonprofit immigrant advocacy organization. But despite being qualified for the visa, federal immigration authorities nonetheless wanted to deport her and her family in 2018.

Suyapa Reyes leaves the First United Methodist Church of Germantown 3-12-20 (Photo by Sam Newhouse)

The New Sanctuary Movement has helped other local immigrants seek refuge in places of worship while fighting deportation.

In 2014, Honduran immigrant Angela Navarro took sanctuary in a Kensington church; just two months later, she was granted a two-year stay on her deportation order to pursue citizenship.

Mexican immigrant Javier Flores took sanctuary in late 2016 in a Center City church, and after a year, left after his case was moved to the deferred action list. Mexican mother Carmela Hernandez, who took sanctuary in December 2017 in the Church of the Advocate in Kensington along with her four children, is still in sanctuary, now in Germantown Mennonite Church, and was visited there by Reyes on March 12.

Clive and Oneita Thompson, the Jamaican couple who were in sanctuary with Suyapa, originally left their native island fleeing gang violence. They remain in sanctuary at First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

About Sam Newhouse 5 Articles
Samuel Newhouse is a writer who lives in Germantown. His work has been featured in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Chestnut Hill Local, The Art Blog, The Secret Admirer, Star Newspaper in the River Wards, the Metro, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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