Angela Navarro has spent more than 10 years staying ahead of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, moving from house to house along with her husband and their two children.
Fed up with the nomad lifestyle, she picked up her family one last time in November – and moved in to a Philadelphia church.
Navarro, 28, isn’t the only illegal immigrant to have done this. In fact, she’s the eighth person this year who’s sought refuge in a house of worship, according to Al Jazeera America. There, she’s safe from the ICE – who generally won’t pursue enforcement actions inside a church – while she fights the decade-old deportation order.
“The hardest part has been leaving my life behind – leaving my house, my job, the inability to do normal family things, like going out for a walk or going shopping,” she told the Associated Press.
Navarro’s family has moved into the West Kensington Ministry in North Philadelphia as well, despite the fact that they are all U.S. citizens. But that’s okay, says her 9-year-old daughter, Mariana Mendoza, who just wants her mom to stay safe “because if she didn’t move [into the church], maybe they could deport her.”
The mother of two first moved to the U.S. when she was 17. Caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in 2003, she was allowed to stay with her parents, who were already living in Philly. A judge ultimately ruled against her and she was told to leave the country. She didn’t.
It was Navarro’s mother who first suggested the idea of staying in a church.
“When my mom first told me about this I thought, ‘No,’ because I didn’t know how I could leave my house and my work,” she told Al Jazeera America.
But she was at her breaking point. “Everything you have to do with kids – going to a hospital, going to school, when you have to represent them – every time I have to write my name, I have all this stress. Should I write it? Should I not? Because maybe ICE will come,” she said.
Living in the church has its own downsides. Her family is confined to a cramped playroom. They don’t even have their own kitchen. And Navarro can’t set foot outside of church property.
“If [living in the church] ends my deportation,” Navarro told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I’ll be free to do everything afterward.”
In the meantime, she spends her time playing guitar and praying.
For his part, church leader Adan Mairena is doing everything he can to help Navarro. “It’s a way for us to act out our faith,” he told the AP.
Attorney Patricia Camuzzi Luber recently filed paperwork asking officials to review Navarro’s case and suspend her deportation order in the wake of her marriage to her husband, a truck driver, as well as President Barack Obama’s executive actions granting legal status to millions of immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors or who have American children.
For now, she’ll have to wait – and the family is looking at the positives of their situation.
Navarro’s daughter says, “I’m happy here,” Mariana told the AP. Before, she only saw her mom in the mornings because she was busy working late hours as a restaurant cook at night. “Now, every day I can always see her.”