AuthorHiggins, Maeve
PositionMAEVE IN AMERICA - New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia

On December 21,Clive and Oneita Thompson, a married couple from Jamaica, walked free after more than two years of taking sanctuary in a Philadelphia church. The federal government had finally dropped It's deportation case against them.

"When we got the letter from [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], I was just looking at it in shock," Clive Thompson said in a statement. "It's a big breakthrough-after working so long, this is a miracle. I feel like all the stress is drifting away, and everything is lighting up with joy."

Because this happened during Christmas week, it's tempting to frame their story as a Christmas miracle. And it has many elements of the original Christmas story: travelers fleeing danger in their homeland, looking to strangers in a strange land for help; parents desperate for a better future for their children.

The Thompson family fled Jamaica in 2004 after gang members burned their farm and threatened to kill them. The U.S. government denied them asylum at that time but allowed them to stay.

This is not uncommon. Migrants with no criminal record, as well as strong community and family ties, were, at least in the past, regularly granted stays of deportation. There are conditions, like check-ins with ICE, but ultimately those stays allowed these migrants to live and work (and to pay taxes) in the United States as they awaited some path to citizenship, or for Congress to pass any long-awaited national immigration reform.

So the Thompsons, too afraid to return to Jamaica, waited. They stayed and made a home for themselves and their seven children, throughout their fourteen years in the small New Jersey town of Cedarville.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Clive was a heavy-equipment operator at the Bridge-ton-based Cumberland Dairy, while Oneita, a certified nursing assistant, worked at Friends Village retirement home in a nearby township.

The couple have always taken pains to prove their worthiness: the Inquirer also printed photos of Clive holding up IRS documents-which proved he'd paid tax throughout his years here and three of their children hold U.S. citizenship. It was the Trump Administration that ordered them deported.

That is where the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia came into play. The sanctuary group works to "end injustices against immigrants regardless of immigration status" by expressing radical welcome for all and ensuring that "values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in...

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