Caribbean Immigrant Family Sheltering In Church In Trump’s Anti-Immigration Era

The Thompsons address the media and supporters on Sept. 29, 2020. (Tabernacle United Church image)
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News Americas, Philadelphia, PA, Weds. Sept. 30, 2020: Immigration did not make it into the US presidential debate last night, but hours before, a Philadelphia church had extended its sanctuary to a Caribbean immigrant family, facing deportation in the Trump anti-immigration era.

Tabernacle United Church on Tuesday welcomed Jamaicans Oneita and Clive Thompson to a new Sanctuary location as they fight deportation.   Clergy from surrounding congregations as well as from Carmela’s Sanctuary church, Germantown Mennonite Church, came out to say that they are dedicated to surrounding the family with care until the day the Thompsons are free.

The couple have been living in the US for more than a decade and a half, but in 2018 they were ordered by immigration officials to return to Jamaica because they overstayed their visas.

Clive Thompson came to the US on a visa from Jamaica in 2004 after a gang member murdered her brother and threatened their lives. Their request for asylum was denied.

In a statement, ICE immigration officials said that Oneita and Clive have overstayed their visas since 2004 and are “currently immigration fugitives and subject to arrest and removal from the country once encountered by ICE.”

The couple have now been living in sanctuary at the church for more than two years. “We are fighting for a better life and I think we will achieve that as long as we keep focus on our goal,” said Clive Thompson.

“Too many Black and Brown folks that look like me are not free to walk in a neighborhood, talk, walk on the street or just march freely,” said Oneita Thompson. “The injustice is even happening while we are asleep in our own beds. One might say once you’re in bed, you’re safe. But that’s not true for Black families. The time for justice and freedom is now.”

“If the laws were just, they wouldn’t be here. If the laws were anti-racist, they wouldn’t be here,” saidPastor Katie Aikens, Pastor of Tabernacle United Church, Tuesday. “If the laws were humane and treated Black and Brown people equal to White people they wouldn’t be here. But the reality is they are here because our racist and violent immigration laws have forced them here. Anti-blackness is in our immigration system just as it runs through the fabric of this country and its policies. We are here today to say no. We are here to challenge these laws. We are here to stand with the Thompsons and fight alongside them.”

But ICE officials also said that, in a show of discretion, they are allowing the Thompsons to remain free from custody while finalizing their deportation plans under the judge’s order to leave the country.

The case is one of many nationwide, which reflects the draconian steps the Trump administration has taken to ramp up deportations and stymie legal migration.