A Guatemalan-born woman facing deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is taking physical sanctuary in an Upper West Side church, the New Sanctuary Coalition announced at a news conference Thursday.
Debora Barrios-Vasquez, 32, fled Guatemala in 2005 and has been living in New York ever since. Her children, 10 and 2, are both United States citizens. She was pulled over for a traffic violation in 2011 and had regular check-ins with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since then, but in February, ICE ordered her deportation.
Barrios-Vasquez has been living in a single room at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church with her 2-year-old child since May 14. She lives apart from her 10-year-old son and cannot go outside. ICE’s “sensitive location” policy protects people from being arrested at places of worship in most circumstances.
Barrios-Vasquez said that she would like the opportunity to see a judge, but declined to discuss the legal specifics of her case.
“I don’t want to be another mother separated from their children,” Barrios-Vasquez said in both English and Spanish to rows of pews filled with supporters. “I ask for the opportunity to remain with my children who need me as much as I need them.”
Her son, Kener, 10, stood at her side and said, “I need my mom with me. She is a really big influence in my life.”
Other speakers included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who called New York City “the greatest city of immigrants in the world,” and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who called for the abolition of ICE. Religious leaders led songs in English, Spanish and Hebrew beneath a flag that read, “How good it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in harmony.”
Congregations throughout the city have been offering their support for undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation. Another Guatemalan woman, Aura Hernandez, took sanctuary at the Fourth Universalist Church on Central Park West in March. The women will remain at the churches indefinitely.