Immigrant mother vows to fight deportation from sanctuary of Upper West Side church

Aura Hernandez speaks Thursday at Fourth Universalist Church on Central Park West, where she has taken sanctuary while facing deportation.
Aura Hernandez speaks Thursday at Fourth Universalist Church on Central Park West, where she has taken sanctuary while facing deportation. Photo Credit: Electric Zoo

Ten-year-old Daniel Sanchez marched around Trump International Hotel & Tower on Thursday, leading a throng of protesters and holding a sign with a desperate plea — “Please don’t deport my mommy.”

Sanchez was followed by approximately 50 immigration advocates performing a silent Jericho prayer walk in support of his mother, Aura Hernandez, who took sanctuary three weeks ago at the Fourth Universalist Society. Hernandez faces deportation.

“It has been very heartbreaking. It’s really unfair, and my heart aches for this little one who misses his mom, who has panic attacks every time he has to leave her,” said Patricia Jimenez, 46, a member of the church. “She needs to be with her family, and she can’t do that.”

Hernandez, who fled from domestic violence in Guatemala 13 years ago, came to the New Sanctuary Coalition’s clinic at Judson Memorial Church in search of legal help while facing deportation, said the Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz.

Daniel Sanchez, 10, holds a sign that reads
Daniel Sanchez, 10, holds a sign that reads “please don’t deport my mommy,” during a walk to the church. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

“She is not running from justice,” Ruiz said, adding that the coalition is in the process of assembling a team of lawyers for her. “She is seeking the justice that she has been denied.”

Hernandez cannot step out of the church for fear of being “kidnapped” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, he said. Living in sanctuary, however, can be very limiting and difficult, he added.

“You are confined to a physical space. You cannot do anything for your children. You cannot take them to school,” he said, referring to Hernandez’s two children, Daniel, 10, and Camila, 15 months. “How do you help provide for your family?”

Hernandez described the experience as living in a “golden jail cell.”

ICE said in a statement that Hernandez was issued a final order of removal in July 2006 after initially encountering Border Patrol agents in Rio Grande City, Texas, on Aug. 6, 2005. An immigration judge denied a motion to reopen her case, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision. Hernandez was ordered to leave the country by Nov. 30, 2017, but she filed another motion with the appeals board. Later, Hernandez was ordered to report to ICE on March 1 for removal.

A member of the clergy washes Aura Hernandez's feet at the Fourth Universalist Society.
A member of the clergy washes Aura Hernandez’s feet at the Fourth Universalist Society. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

“Hernandez did not report as required and is now considered an ICE fugitive,” according to the statement.

While embracing both of her children in her arms, Hernandez, 37, addressed the crowd at Fourth Universalist Society and said via translator: “I want to raise my voice because my children, who are the future, cannot do so. And because they have rights.

“I am not asking for pity. I am asking for the justice that is mine.”

Leaders stressed the importance of “true faith,” and how that means stepping up and protecting those in need.

“This is what true faith means when we can open our doors to protect those who are facing tragedy, protecting those who are afraid that their families can be ripped apart, protecting those who want to live with dignity,” Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and himself a target of ICE, said. “Sanctuary is what we all do. We need to stand up, step up, and protect.”

Ragbir, whose detention by ICE officials sparked multiple protests across the city in January, said that Hernandez’s next step will be “to sit tight” while he and his team reach out to ICE for a stay on her removal.

“You cannot deport a movement. Aura is now a part of that movement,” he said.

“She is not going to be deported. The community won’t allow it.”

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