Philadelphia church providing sanctuary for Jamaican family fighting deportation

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia church is working with a local organization to provide sanctuary for a Jamaican family who is fighting deportation after 16 years in the U.S.

Oneita and Clive Thompson said their lives have been turned upside down while facing the threat of deportation the past couple of years.

The couple is now seeking sanctuary by living in the Tabernacle United Church in West Philadelphia while they continue to fight to stay in the country that they've called home for more than a decade and a half.

Oneita said she and her husband came here on a visa from Jamaica in 2004 after a gang member murdered her brother and threatened their lives.

Their request for asylum was denied but Oneita said they later gained permission to legally work and live in the U.S. while their case was pending.

During that time, Clive held jobs in construction and at a South Jersey dairy. Oneita was working as a nursing assistant and studying to become an RN. The couple had two more children, who were both born into U.S. citizenship.

"You know, I myself went to college, and so forth. We were working all the time, buy a home in New Jersey, do everything that's right, just like a normal citizen would expect," Oneita said.

But in 2018, 14 years after being in the country, Oneita said they were ordered by immigration officials to return to Jamaica.

"It's just sad. I just can't understand a lot of times where you think you did everything right. You work, you pay your taxes and live as a good citizen, you help others, we volunteer. I just can't... the thought of even trying to go back to nothing is hard," Oneita said.

Fearing deportation, they have moved from the First United Methodist Church of Germantown and are now living in another sanctuary church, Tabernacle United in West Philadelphia.

The church is working with an organization called New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.

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The Thompsons' two youngest children are free to come and go, but Clive and Oneita cannot. This means they also can't work and help their 22-year-old son CJ with his college tuition at the Ivy League school, Columbia University.

"That's what I think when it comes to America, just opportunity," said CJ Thompson.

CJ wasn't born in America, so he falls under DACA, the program that protects some young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country at a young age.

"I have my dreams and aspirations, but when it comes to DACA, I don't let that stop me from doing whatever I need to do to reach the point I want to reach," said CJ.

The Thompsons' lawyer has filed a motion to reopen their case and lift the deportation status after failed appeals over the years.

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In a statement, ICE immigration officials said that Oneita and Clive have overstayed their visas since 2004 and are "currently immigration fugitives and subject to arrest and removal from the country once encountered by ICE."

"We are fighting for a better life and I think we will achieve that as long as we keep focus on our goal," said Clive Thompson.

ICE officials also said that, in a show of discretion, they are allowing the Thompsons to remain free from custody while finalizing their deportation plans under the judge's order to leave the country.
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