A Guatemalan mother-of-two has taken refuge in a Manhattan church in fear that immigration authorities will separate her from her children.
Aura Hernandez says she moved to the United States to escape an abusive relationship in 2005.
After crossing the border, the undocumented immigrant ignored a Texas court date and moved to Westchester with her sister.
She went on to have two children and cleaned homes for a living, regularly checking in during the past five years with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
But during a check-in last month, Hernandez was told to return to Guatemala or face deportation.
So the 37-year-old mom, with her children in tow, sought sanctuary.
“I came here looking for help because I was in a very difficult situation, for me and my children,” Hernandez told the New York Daily News.
The family is now at Fourth Universalist Society, a historic Upper West Side church, where officials have vowed to keep her and her family safe from immigration authorities.
Hernandez’s children, a 9-year-old boy and 15-month-old girl, are both American citizens.
Her son was among demonstrators who gathered outside Trump International Hotel near Columbus Circle Thursday.
"This is why we are here in front of the hotel that represents the president of this country, to tell him he is not respecting one of the most important commandments: 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself,'" Daniel Hernandez told the crowd, according to The News. "He is not taking care nor protecting us. Quite the contrary, he is using his power to mistreat and abuse us."
Back at the church, several priests washed Hernandez's feet, along with those of two other immigrants, emulating the washing of the Apostles' feet at the Last Supper, which, according to the Gospel, was Jesus's final meal before his crucifixion.
“We firmly believe that it is better for these families to stay together, to have a path to citizenship, and to remain safe with their loving families in this country,” Will Ashley, president of the Fourth Universalist Society of New York, told The Associated Press.
Hernandez is the second immigrant to publicly seek refuge from federal authorities in a New York City church. She has vowed to remain inside the church until her immigration status changes.
“I am not the only one in this situation,” Hernandez said. “There’s many of us. I won’t stay quiet. We can’t allow more separation of families. We need to unite.”
ICE’s official policy deems schools and churches to be "sensitive locations," where enforcement action is largely avoided.
However, it may occur in "limited circumstances," such as under the order of a supervisor.
“While ICE reserves the right to enter such areas under extreme circumstances, historically they have not,” Ashley said.
Hernandez is now considered an ICE fugitive, the agency told The News.