Couple in hiding from ICE for over two years are finally free

Oneita and Clive Thompson spent over 800 days living in churches to avoid being deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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A couple spent over two years avoiding deportation at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by taking refuge at local churches.

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CNN reported Oneita and Clive Thompson lived in two different churches over the span of 843 days. The husband and wife fled from Jamaica’s gang violence in 2004 with their children. According to the news outlet, Oneita said her brother was killed and Clive was threatened before their departure.

Although they were initially denied asylum, the Thompson’s were allowed to stay in the United States and received work authorization. The couple also participated in regular check-ins with ICE.

The family moved to Cedarville, New Jersey, and lived there for 14 years. Oneita worked as a nursing assistant, Clive worked with heavy machinery at the Cumberland Dairy processing facility, and together they raised their seven kids, CNN reported. It was not until August 2018 when President Donald Trump’s administration initiated new policies and informed the family they were no longer welcomed.

“It was a nightmare. From one day living the American dream…within four days all of that was just taken away,” Mrs. Thomas said to CNN.

According to the report, the family sought assistance from the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, which found them safe shelter as they fought the ruling. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, along with their two teenagers, Christine, 18, and Timothy, 14, who are both American citizens, moved into the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

“The reality of physical sanctuary is that it is incredibly hard…It becomes house arrest, you’re almost trapped,” Peter Pedemonti, co-director of National Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, said to CNN.

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Undocumented immigrants wait in a holding cell at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), processing center on April 11, 2018 at the U.S. Federal Building in lower Manhattan, New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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CNN reported although ICE is not barred from entering churches and other sensitive locations, the agency generally avoids those types of enforcement actions. The Thompson family repeatedly made attempts to block the deportation order. Throughout the two years in hiding, ICE had repeatedly denied the requests as they applied for permanent residency.

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, the family filed a motion to reopen their asylum case with the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals. They obtained letters from Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Dwight Evans, and NJ Sen. Cory Booker, and approximately 200 letters from church and community members before the case was reopened.

“We have no criminal record, we work and pay our taxes, we volunteer, I spent my whole almost 14 years taking care of the elderly in this country,” Oneita said.

The federal government dropped the order in mid-December and although the Thompsons are no longer threatened by deportation, they still have not been granted permanent residency, CNN reported.

“Upon the BIA’s issuance of a decision, the Thompsons were no longer subject to a final order of removal, thereby removing any imminent concerns of possible removal,” an ICE official said to CNN.

CBS News reported this year, ICE arrested and deported fewer immigrants than in any year under the Trump administration, and the number of deportations hit a 15-year low. The drop is reportedly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, the agency executed more than 185,000 deportations less than the 226,000 immigrants deported in 2017. 103,000 immigration arrests were made in 2020 compared to 143,000 in 2019.

“We did scale down enforcement. We didn’t stop it. We just prioritized those with a criminal element and those subject to mandatory detention that were potentially at large,” said Henry Lucero, a top ICE official in charge of arrests, detention, and deportations, to CBS.

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