Claudia Jurado was overcome with fear Wednesday when she received a letter from U.S. immigration officials, who said her request for asylum had been denied and she and her 1-year-old son had to board a plane to El Salvador on Friday.
Jurado said she fled her native country because of threats of gang violence against her family. She is afraid that the gangs will target her and have her killed if she returns.
When she learned she would be deported, she cut off the ankle monitor immigration officials placed on her right leg when she entered the country last December and turned to the one thing she had left: her faith. She has taken refuge with her son, Gosue Alexander Fuentes, and daughter in a makeshift home at the Our Lady Of The Americas Mission in Lilburn.
“I was desperate,” said Jurado, who spoke with the Daily Post on Saturday through a translator. “I decided to stay for my kids. I feel safe now. I don’t want any benefits from the U.S. I just want to be able to stay.”
Jurado’s situation is unique in that it’s rare for a church to become a modern-day sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation. She faces an uncertain future as her husband, Santos Gosue Fuentes, and their daughter, Katherine Nicole Fuentes, are still waiting for immigration officials to decide whether they will be deported.
The hearing for the husband and the daughter is scheduled for December, Jurado said. She said she believes they will be ordered to leave the country as well.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed in a statement that Jurado had been ordered to report to its Atlanta office for deportation. The agency described her actions as “absconding,” saying she “actively obstructed the removal process” when she cut off her ankle monitor.
“Claudia Mariela Jurado, a Salvadoran national, has been afforded full due process in compliance with federal law and ICE policy,” the agency said in its statement. “After she illegally entered the United States in December, a federal immigration judge ordered her removed to El Salvador following a comprehensive hearing on the merits of her case in April.”
There is one factor complicating Jurado’s situation: She is three-months pregnant. If she gives birth to her third child while she is still in the United States, that child will be a U.S. citizen under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
The expectant mother said she worries about the other possibility that it could be born in El Salvador.
“I feel really sad because I can’t offer my child anything in my country,” she said.
Jurado explained her family left El Salvador after they stopped making weekly payments of about $50 to $100 to local gangs to be left alone. The gang members threatened to kill the family, so she and her husband took their kids and left everything else behind. She said the family was kidnapped by drug dealers while they traveled through Mexico.
She and her husband were separated at that point, she said. Their son stayed with her while their daughter stayed with her husband, she explained.
Jurado and her son escaped and made it across the border by crossing the Rio Grande on Dec. 5. She said her husband and their daughter were able to make it across later in the month. They were able to come to Atlanta because she had family in the area, she said.
Even though Jurado left all of her possessions behind in El Salvador when her family left, she said she has clung to her Catholic faith to give her hope. She said that is why she turned to the church for help when she received the deportation notice.
“My faith in God is the only thing I have left,” she said. “I believe God will never allow me to be alone. I feel better here. I feel safe.”
Jurado said she never expected to make a home in a church when she came to the U.S., but she now feels she can’t venture beyond its walls. She said immigration officials have said they will not arrest her if she stays on the church property, and she refuses to leave the building as a result.
She said she is afraid immigration officials will show up and arrest her if she steps out the front door. It means she can’t do little everyday actions such as going to the grocery store or taking her children outside to play on the church playground.
That is hard for children who are still too young to understand what is going on, she said.
“I feel bad because my kids all the time ask why they can’t be with their father,” Jurado said. “All the time, they ask ‘Mom, when can we go back home?’”