Seeking Sanctuary in Washington Heights

Oct 27, 2017

Supporters of Amanda Morales Guerra gather on the steps of the Holyrood Church in Upper Manhattan
Credit Brandy Wood for WBGO

Amanda Morales Guerra has spent the last two months inside the Holyrood Church in Washington Heights. Community members ferry her children back and forth to school. Volunteers come in several times each week to teach her English. Earlier this month, Amanda came out to the steps of the church to greet a group from a local synagogue. She could not venture further, for fear of deportation and separation from her family.

Amanda arrived in the United States in 2004. She was fleeing violence in her native country of Guatemala. At the time, she was unaware that she could apply for asylum, and she did not have access to a lawyer who could support her efforts to acquire the right documentation to remain in the U-S.

More recently, she has been regularly checking in with ICE, but in early August, she was told she must bring a nonstop, one way ticket to Guatemala with her to her next appointment. Instead, she brought her three U-S born children to the Holyrood Church in upper Manhattan to seek sanctuary.

Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, a co-founder of the New Sanctuary Movement, has been working to shed light on Amanda’s situation, one he says is not unique or new. What makes Amanda’s situation stand out is that she has notified ICE of her location and intent to stay.

One way in which Ruiz is building support is through outreach to other faith leaders in the Washington Heights community. Reverend Luis Barrios of the Holyrood Church recently spoke on the steps of the church to a group of members of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center about Amanda, her family and the larger community of faith in upper Manhattan.

Rabbi Guy Austrian, of Fort Tryon, had invited members of his synagogue to the gathering at the church in an effort to learn about and support this family in their neighborhood, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Amanda, through a translator, answered questions from those in attendance about her life, her family and her hopes for what comes next. Though she cannot leave the church, she explained to those in attendance that she has everything she needs… except an answer to her asylum request.

Hear the entire story about Amanda Morales Guerra by clicking above.