During a Holy Week service at The Fourth Universalist Society in Manhattan, New York, religious and political leaders washed a Guatemalan woman’s feet, re-enacting a moment during the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles.
It was a symbolic representation of the church’s dedication to Aura Hernandez, a 37-year-old undocumented mother who is taking sanctuary at the historic church to avoid deportation.
“I don’t intend to stand here with my arms crossed, and do nothing,” the woman told the New York Times in Spanish. “I have to stand up and raise my voice because an injustice is being committed to me and to us. I think I’m here for a reason.”
Following the church service, the congregation, which has volunteered to feed Hernandez, take care of her family’s laundry and help care for her children, embarked on a silent Jericho walk around the Trump International Hotel.
The walk was a way for them to “denounce Trump’s racially charged, anti-immigrant speech, which has given license to the violent implementation of policies that terrorize our immigrant communities and violate basic human rights,” Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, a co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition, an immigrant rights group that helps organize sanctuaries like that of Hernandez’s, said in a statement.
Hernandez, who moved in two weeks ago and could stay for several months, is one of about 40 immigrants at risk of removal taking refuge at houses of worship.
Churches, considered sensitive sites, are largely avoided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, thus several congregations have offered their places of worship as shields for those under threat of deportation.
During her time at The Fourth Universalist Society, Hernandez will try to reopen her case for a special visa while the public puts pressure on ICE to grant her a reprieve. The strategy has worked in the past. According to the New York Times, of the 39 immigrants who sought public sanctuary nationally in 2017, nine were granted reprieves from deportation. This year, six of 12 have shared the same fate.
The mother, who has two children who are U.S. citizens, a 15-month-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, journeyed across the Mexico-Texas border in 2005. She was 25 years old and fleeing an abusive partner who threatened to kill her. She along with her 9-year-old nephew were quickly picked up by Border Patrol. She alleges that the officer sexual abused her. Three days later, another agent handed her papers that read “Welcome to the United States” and took them to a bus stop. Traumatized, Hernandez never read that document, which was in English.
Eight years later, while driving in Mamaroneck, New York, Hernandez was pulled over by a police officer for driving the wrong way down a street that is one-way on Sundays. The officer reported the woman to immigration officials and that is when she learned she had an active deportation order for failing to appear at a 2005 court date in Texas.
The New Sanctuary Coalition aims to reopen her case because of the alleged assault and possible violence she would encounter in Guatemala.