An undocumented immigrant couple on Monday left the basement of a Philadelphia church two-and-a-half years after going into hiding, following the news their deportation case had been dropped.
Oneita and Clive Thompson, who emerged from the basement of the Tabernacle United Church on Monday, say they left Jamaica 15 years ago to flee gang violence.
They were forced to hide out for 843 days with two of their seven children after losing their asylum case in August 2018 and being told they would be deported, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
ICE agents are stopped from taking action in houses of worship, hospitals, and schools.
Oneita and Clive Thompson have left the basement of a Philadelphia church after 843 days following the news their deportation case had been dropped
The couple have seven children – three of whom are American citizens. Their two youngest children, American citizens Christine, 18, and Timothy, 14, joined them in the basement.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote to the pair in recent weeks, telling them that they will support their case to stay; it is not clear why.
They are now said to be in the process of applying for permanent residency in the US after fleeing Jamaica when a gang burned their farm, threatening to kill them.
The government had said they could stay but denied them asylum and they raised their family in America.
When Donald Trump took office his administration made moves to deport the couple.
Oneita said she got a call from ICE saying she and her husband were going to be deported – leading them to take sanctuary in the church three days later.
‘ll I could think about was my family being torn apart, and that we would be killed if we went back to Jamaica,’ she said.
The couple said they had to ‘leave our home, both our jobs, our kids’ schools, and our friends behind’, asking for donations to support their stay in sanctuary.
They first stayed in the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, before later moving to the Tabernacle United Church.
The couple’s two youngest of their seven children, Christine, 18, and Timothy, 14, joined them in the basement
The family was forced into hiding after losing their asylum case in August 2018 and they were told they would be deported
Clive, 61, told CBS: ‘When we got the letter from ICE, I was just looking at it in shock. It’s a big breakthrough – after working so long, this is a miracle. I feel like all the stress is drifting away, and everything is lighting up with joy.’
Nursing assistant Oneita, 48, added: ‘My whole heart is ready to go.
‘Doubt was never in my mind. I was very afraid — afraid of losing my children, of being deported. But if I allowed doubt in my mind, I would have fallen apart. I was fearful, but not doubtful.’
‘I’m joyful, a joyful moment, with tears. Here we are, walking out of the church. We’re going to go back and live the American dream’, heavy-equipment operator Clive added.
Tabernacle’s pastor Rev. Katie Aikins said: ‘It’s a little bit like a Christmas miracle.’
A campaign group called Families Belong Together said the Thompsons had ‘moved from church to church for years’ in order to fight deportation’.
‘This administration forces families like the Thompsons to live with unending desperation and uncertainty,’ the group said.
Sanctuary gives protection to families from immigration officials, but it also alerts authorities to their location – meaning they often cannot step outside at all.
The pandemic also made things harder by leaving them isolated from visitors and reducing their ability to hold fundraising events at the church.
They are now said to be in the process of applying for permanent residency in the US after fleeing Jamaica
Children Christine and Timothy were US citizens and were able to go to school despite their parents hiding away