Undocumented immigrant Carmela Apolonio Hernandez and her family, who have been in sanctuary at the Church of the Advocate for about 10 months, are receiving support from several student and city organizations.
Hernandez, a native of Mexico, has lived at the church on Diamond Street near Gratz with her four children to avoid deportation orders from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE policy considers places of worship sensitive locations and avoids taking enforcement actions there. The Hernandez family risks deportation if they leave the church.
Philadelphia restaurant chefs prepared a meal for the family at the church on Friday to bring awareness to Hernandez’s status situation, in partnership with the Popular Alliance for Undocumented Workers’ Rights and the Sanctuary Advocate Coalition, two immigrants’ rights groups.
For Thanksgiving in 2017, la Asociación de Estudiantes Latinos, AdEL, a Latinx student organization on campus, went to the church to bring the Hernandez family food, said Gail Vivar, AdEL’s director of external communication.
“Temple students need to be in solidarity for everyone, not just certain things that are happening to them,” she said. “There are so many things going on outside of our community, and Carmela is a few blocks away.”
On Oct. 10, Hernandez risked detainment to protest in the lobby of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s Philadelphia office, attempting to get the senator to sponsor a private bill to secure protections for her family.
“As long as I have life, I will keep on fighting,” Hernandez said at the protest on Oct. 11, through her interpreter, Yared Portillo. “Someday I will be free.”
A representative from Casey’s office wrote in a statement to The Temple News that the senator “will continue to advocate for measures that will provide them the protections they are due under our laws.”
Jennifer Lee, a Temple University law professor who specializes in immigration law, said attaining asylum status takes years and is slowed by President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
“I assume this is one of many, many cases that we have in the immigration system where it is really hard for immigrants to be able to get immigration release in the U.S.,” Lee said. “For most people, it’s not an option, unless if you have a close family member. And even then, you may have to wait in line for 10 years, or you’ve gotten in through employment, such as someone with a Ph.D.”
Editor’s note: Gail Vivar was previously a freelance reporter for The Temple News. She played no part in the reporting and editing of this story.