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Guatemalan Immigrant Seeks Refuge From Deportation at Uptown Church

By  Trevor Kapp and Carolina Pichardo | August 18, 2017 11:43am 

 Amanda Morales-Guerra, 33, who took refuge at the Holyrood Episcopal Church Thursday night, plays with her three children Friday afternoon.
Amanda Morales-Guerra, 33, who took refuge at the Holyrood Episcopal Church Thursday night, plays with her three children Friday afternoon.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant with three young kids has taken refuge at Holyrood Episcopal Church on West 179th Street to avoid deportation, officials said.

Amanda Morales-Guerra, 33, whose came to the U.S. illegally 13 years ago, and has now opted to seek sanctuary instead of appearing before Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and several community organizers said Friday afternoon.   

Morales-Guerra was told by ICE agents at her last appointment in May "to bring a one-way ticket to Guatemala because she was going to be deported," potentially separating her from her children, Dulce, 9, Daniela, 7, and 2-year-old son, David, who are all U.S. citizens, according to Juan Carlos Ruiz, Lutheran Minister and organizer of New Sanctuary Coalition.

Holyrood, near Fort Washington Avenue, is a member of the Sanctuary Coalition of NYC, a pack of religious institutions and organizations that try to help immigrants avoid detention and deportation.

"There's a culture — the enforcement culture — that's basically hyped-up under this new administration, and they don't see that there is any legal recourse for her," Ruiz said, adding there's been a lot of legal neglect as well, citing Morales-Guerra paid several lawyers to help her and those "just took the money and didn't follow through with the case."

Morales-Guerra, according to Ruiz, first arrived in 2004 and remained undetected until 2012, when she passenger of car that was involved in a car accident in 2012. Ruiz said that since then she has remained in the country under supervision. 

"I thank you all who are helping me. To all the community. To all the people who are bringing help to us. I thank each of you. Know that I don't do this just for me, but for all the families who are undergoing this same situation," Morales-Guerra said Friday afternoon. "I ask them to please seek for help to go to their priest, pastor, or a church, and get help."

Ruiz said Morales-Guerra currently doesn't have a lawyer, but that the coalition has a legal clinic and volunteer lawyers who have reviewed the case. 

Ruiz said although ICE agents aren't forbidden from entering spaces like the church, they're "betting on this long tradition that there are these sensible spaces" — like church, hospitals and schools — and they're "standing on those grounds that they will have some respect."    

"We believe Amanda needs to stay here and we believe that there are legal options. She just needs to be given that option," said Ravi Ragbir, a New Sanctuary's organizer. 

Rodriguez and other elected officials said they plan to formally request a stay of her deportation on Monday so her children aren’t separated from her.