‘I’m No Fugitive,’ Says 2nd Immigrant Refugee in Manhattan Church

Guatemalan immigrant Aura Hernández with her children, Camila and Daniel, in the Upper West Side church Fourth Universalist Society. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In October last year, Guatemalan immigrant Aura Hernández showed up at the immigration building at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, as she had been doing regularly since 2013, when she found out that she had a deportation order. There, she was given an ultimatum: “On Nov. 30 you must leave the country, because we are not going to give you any more time.” But she stayed, and was able to get an extension from immigration authorities until March 1.

Anguished and seeking to protect herself from “La Migra,” the mother of Daniel, 10, and Camila, 15 months, decided with her husband that she should leave her Westchester home and seek refuge at a church. As she knew the case of her fellow national Amanda Morales, who has lived for seven months at the Holyrood church in Washington Heights, she went there and was sheltered for two weeks.

Almost a month ago, the Fourth Universalist Society, near Central Park West, offered her refuge. Now, having moved there, the 37-year-old woman vows to fight to not to be separated from her citizen kids and being sent to what she says would be their “tombstone.”

“I cannot leave because of my two kids, and if we go to Guatemala, life would be disastrous and fatal for them,” said the troubled mother, sitting on the steps of the house of worship that has become her home while hugging her children. “Over there, either you join the maras (gangs) or you get killed (…) as happened to my brother, who was killed two years ago because he refused to be a gang member.”

The Central American woman knows it’s not going to be an easy battle, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that having disobeyed the final order, Aura is considered “a fugitive” who might be detained at any given moment. However, she proudly insists that she will defend her rights and her dignity as a woman, as she says she already did confronting ICE.

Victim of violence

“I say that, with the help of my faith, I will be out soon. I want to obtain justice. I don’t want to beg for any gift but, like Jesus, I’m carrying my cross with dignity because I’m not a fugitive or a criminal. I’m just a woman fighting for my children  and I will only leave in a wooden box,” said the immigrant, who also said she was raped.

“Something was done to me at [Border] Patrol. Down there, at the detention center. I never talked about it, but it’s humiliating. That happened when I entered [the U.S.] in 2005. A Border Patrol officer sexually abused me,” she said. “I filed a police report in 2013 but [they said] I spoke up too late, but I hadn’t reported it earlier before because I was very fearful and ashamed of talking about such a horrible thing. I swallowed this pain alone for so long, and now they want to kick me out, but this anger has turned into courage to keep fighting.”

Hernández knew about the deportation order in 2013, when she was stopped for a traffic violation and the police officer informed her that she had to appear before ICE. She had been ordered to leave the country for failing to appear before an immigration court in 2005, after she was detained at the border and given a court date. Now, with a new lawyer and having fruitlessly spent more than $15,000 on legal representatives – one of whom died – the mother hopes for a reprieve with a visa for crime victims.

“Not only was I abused here. I also suffered three years of domestic violence in Guatemala, and I basically left running for my life,” said the woman, who closes her eyes firmly and, after taking a breath, says that her faith is bigger than her pain and she will keep fighting for her children.

“When you are almost on the verge of death, you fight harder, and I believe this nightmare will end soon, and one day my daughter will be president of the United States and will act fairly, and my son will be a lawyer who will defend those in need,” she said. Her 10-year-old kid looked deep into her eyes and said: “No… I’m going to be a fighter… and my mom will not be deported.”

After spending two weeks with Amanda Morales, who in August 2017 took refuge in the Holyrood church to avoid deportation, Hernández said that her compatriot is very depressed and she thinks she is going to give up soon. “This is a desperate situation, and she looks really bad. I am just starting but I am telling everyone who is living in a similar situation because of the Trump government that we need to keep fighting and we can’t give up.”

Rev. Juan Carlos Ruíz, co-founder of the organization New Sanctuary Coalition, said that Hernández’s case is another example of the effects the Trump administration’s politics of persecution are having in the immigrant community.

“This racist rhetoric allows and gives license to the injustice perpetrated against our immigrant communities,” said the religious leader, who vowed to keep helping and assisting all families who feel terrorized by the White House’s actions.


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