An undocumented immigrant couple left the basement of a Philadelphia church two and a half years after going into hiding on Monday, following news that 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 into hiding for 843 days with two of their seven children after losing their asylum claim in August 2018 and being told they would be deported as part of Trump’s immigration crackdown , The Philadelphia Investigator reports.
ICE agents are prevented from working in places of worship, hospitals and schools.
Oneita and Clive Thompson left a Philadelphia church basement after 843 days after eviction case was dropped
The couple have seven children, including three US citizens. Their two youngest children, U.S. citizens Christine, 18, and Timothy, 14, joined them in the basement.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has written to the couple in recent weeks, telling them they would support their case to stay; We do not know why.
They are now reportedly in the process of applying for permanent residence in the United States after fleeing Jamaica when a gang burned down their farm, threatening to kill them.
The government said they could stay, but denied them asylum and they raised their families in America.
When Donald Trump took office, his administration took steps to deport the couple.
Two of their children were born in the United States and the other five are all allowed to be in the United States – but the parents have been told to leave.
Oneita said she received a call from ICE telling her that she and her husband were going to be kicked out – leading them to take refuge at church three days later.
“I would think my family was torn apart and that we would be killed if we returned to Jamaica,” she said.
The couple said they had to “leave our home, our jobs, our children’s schools and our friends behind,” asking for donations to support their stay at the shrine.
They initially stayed in the First United Methodist Church in Germantown, before later moving to the Tabernacle United Church.
One of their children on the outside, Clive Jr – known as CJ – was accepted to Columbia University in July of this year.
CJ helped take care of the family home in South Jersey and worked nights to help her parents, according to WHY.
The couple’s two youngest of their seven children, Christine, 18, and Timothy, 14, joined them in the basement.
The family were forced into hiding after losing their asylum claim in August 2018 and told they would be deported
Clive, 61, said SCS after hearing that the case was dropped: “When we got the letter from ICE, I was just looking at her in shock.
“It’s a big breakthrough – after working so long, it’s a miracle. I have the impression that all the stress is moving away and that everything lights up with joy.
Nursing Assistant Oneita, 48, added: “All of my heart is ready to go.
“Doubt has never been on my mind. I was very afraid, afraid of losing my children, of being deported. But if I had left the doubt in my mind, I would have collapsed. I was scared, but I had no doubts.
“I am happy, a happy moment, with tears. Here we are, coming out of the church. We are going to go back to living the American dream, ”added heavy equipment operator Clive.
Tabernacle pastor Reverend Katie Aikins said, “It’s kind of like a Christmas miracle.”
A campaign group called Families Belong Together said the Thompson had “moved from church to church for years” to fight deportation. ”
“This administration is forcing families like the Thompsons to live in endless desperation and uncertainty,” the group said.
The sanctuary protects families from immigration officials, but also alerts authorities to their location, meaning they often cannot get out at all.
The pandemic has also made things more difficult by leaving them isolated from visitors and reducing their ability to organize fundraising events at the church.
They are now reportedly in the process of applying for permanent residence in the United States after fleeing Jamaica
Children Christine and Timothy were US citizens and were able to attend school despite their parents in hiding