Another Guatemalan Mother Takes Refuge in a NY Church

Deborah Barrios Vásquez and her son Kener Maldonado during the announcement. (Photo by María Lombard via El Diario)

On Feb. 22, Guatemalan immigrant Deborah Barrios Vásquez showed up at the ICE office in New York as she had been doing promptly since 2011, but this time the news was bad. The official attending to her handed her a letter that said she had to leave the country by May 14, as her pending deportation case would not be appealed.

The 32-year-old woman, who arrived in the U.S. in 2007 from the town of San Antonio, Guatemala, and who is the mother of two New York-born children, decided to disregard ICE’s warning. On the same day she was ordered to leave the country, she packed a few clothes and took refuge with her children in the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, in Manhattan.

“I ask for the opportunity to present my case to a judge and fight for my right to live with dignity and safety,” said the young mother from the church’s pulpit, where she announced her decision to take sanctuary accompanied by almost 200 people. “I want my children to know that their dreams can still become a reality, that they’re not over because we are in this country, which is also mine, and we can receive protection and security.”

The Westchester resident was actually going through a good moment professionally. She had just been promoted from administrative assistant to teacher’s aide, which she claimed was proof that she can be valuable to society.

Barrios Vasquez said her problems started in 2011, when she was driving a car without a license and was pulled over by police even though she had not committed any infraction, only because she looked Hispanic, an act that she describes as blatant discrimination.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. He just stopped me because he looked at my face… and that’s when I started doing check-ins with immigration officials,” said the undocumented mother, who is perfectly fluent in English and at the time was going to school.

Visibly affected but showing an impressive fortitude, her son Kener Maldonado, who’s barely 10, sent a message to ICE that moved the audience.

“I know the director of ICE has the power to deport my mom. But he also has the power to keep my mom with her family,” said the child. “I need my mom with me.”

Several local religious and political leaders attended to show their support, including candidate for governor of New York Cynthia Nixon, who described Deborah as a fighter and demanded the federal government stop the attacks on families and even called for abolishing ICE.


Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, of the pro-immigrant organization New Sanctuary Coalition, did not reveal details about their legal strategy to make ICE reopen the case, but said they are reviewing their options.

“We are looking for the best way to proceed legally. That’s why we prefer not to say anything at the moment until we analyze well how are we going to act without harming Deborah and her case,” said the priest.


Deborah is the third Guatemalan mother seeking sanctuary at a New York church. She joins Aura Hernández, who in March took refuge at the Fourth Universalist Society church, and Amanda Morales, who in August will have spent a whole year fighting deportation in Washington Heights’ Holyrood Church.

Rev. Luis Barrios, from Holyrood Church, said that Deborah’s case is just another among many mothers who are suffering abuse on a daily basis from the federal government (…)

“Our message to the Trump administration and the rest of the country is, if we go back to the Biblical foundations – and they love to talk about that – they tell us that we must have solidarity and kindness. We must humanize the laws, because the separation of families is wrong and must be condemned,” said Barrios, who pointed out that these kinds of policies didn’t start under Trump, and they were common under the Obama administration.

The priest also said that, on the legal level, the cases of other women refugees in churches have not changed, and they are persevering in their struggle.

“They carry on with the normal ups and downs, but they are willing to keep fighting. The people of ICE just don’t care about changing things, they could fix this in five minutes, but part of their policy is to harass and wear out and create trauma,” said Barrios. “But we also have time to respond to them in kind, and we are not going to fold.”

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  1. Pingback: – Guatemalan Mother Reunites with Her Three Children in NYC

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